The dedication and perseverance of 10 alumni from The University of Texas-Pan American paid off May 24 when they graduated from medical school, after having completed the UTPA-Baylor College of Medicine Premedical Honors College (PHC) program they entered at UTPA eight years ago.
The UT Pan American alumni, who recently graduated from the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), were the fourth cohort of alumni to complete the PHC and receive their Doctor of Medicine degrees.
UTPA alumni receiving diplomas from BCM represented six percent of the graduating class this semester.
The candidates for the Doctor of Medicine degrees and their chosen specialty areas are: Yvette Maria Almendarez, pediatrics; Samson Cantu, pediatrics; Jorge Miguel Cavazos, internal medicine; Kristofer Isamu Galvan, internal medicine; Xavier Garcia-Rojas, diagnostic radiology; David Lee Jimenez, pediatrics; Jose Emanuel Lares, internal medicine; Venkatachalam Mulukutla, internal medicine/pediatrics; Cecilia Raquel Sanchez, ophthalmology; and Andres Efrain Splenser, anesthesiology.
Almendarez, a 26-year-old UTPA alumna and recent BCM graduate, plans to stay in Houston for a three-year residency at Baylor in pediatrics and work at Texas Children's Hospital and Ben Taub County Hospital.
She said participating in the UTPA-Baylor Premedical Honors College program was a wonderful experience.
"The program paved the path for me to become a doctor," Almendarez said. "I had great preparation at UTPA and was able to form a close bond to many of my classmates. We all continued our friendship at Baylor and were always there to help each other out."
Not only did she meet many lifelong friends through the program, but she also met her husband, Cavazos, when they were both freshmen at UTPA. They married nearly one year ago while in medical school.
Almendarez credits her successes to opportunities available to her while at UT Pan American, as well as the faculty and staff in the PHC program.
"The Premedical Honors College also gave me opportunities to attend summer programs during my years at UTPA which were great experiences before coming to medical school. If you know you want to become a doctor, this is an excellent opportunity that you must not pass up. UTPA is a great school and Baylor is one of the best medical schools in the country," she said. "The scholarship is also a great incentive."
Originally from Corpus Christi, Almendarez is planning to eventually practice in Corpus Christi, Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley.
Sanchez, a UTPA alumna who recently graduated from BCM at 25, will be completing an internship year at The University of Texas at Houston and will later complete a three-year residency program in ophthalmology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Sanchez said she is grateful for the opportunities available to her while at UT Pan American through the PHC program.
"We were given many opportunities to participate in summer research programs and preceptorships, which were very valuable experiences," she said. "I also formed a very strong support network with other students in the program and we continued to help each other."
Sanchez said she was grateful for the other students in the program who served as a support group since they enrolled in many of the same classes together.
"We helped each other out, studied together, explained things to each other and had fun together," she said. "It was really special to have a group of friends that knew and understood exactly what I was going through - stress, studying, time management and sometimes sacrificing having fun so I could study more. My fondest memories are of living in the dorms and spending time at the cafeteria, science building, and Student Union with my friends, who I am still very close with after eight years."
UTPA alum and recent BCM graduate, Mulukutla, who is originally from Corpus Christi, will be starting a four-year combined residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at BCM after graduation. In the future, he said he hopes to pursue a fellowship in cardiology and his interest in international health.
After his residency, Mulukutla said he is contemplating coming back to the Valley to fill the need for physicians in the area.
"I have family who lives in the Valley, and it (moving back) will be something I will strongly consider," he said. "It is very important that there is an increase in the number of physicians in South Texas to help serve the increasing population. Furthermore, the Valley has suffered from lower patient to physician ratios compared to other areas of the country for quite some time and that needs to change."
Mulukutla said the PHC program has been extremely beneficial to him and allowed him to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor.
"I have been challenged educationally, and because of the program, I have been able to open doors that would have otherwise been closed," he said. "It has decreased the financial burden on my family and me by providing a full-tuition scholarship for eight years. The eight-year program has been rigorous, but it has been just as rewarding. The PHC program has given me a great education and allowed me to fulfill my goal of becoming a physician."
Dr. Cindy Wedig, program coordinator for the PHC at UTPA, said the PHC was established in 1994 as a partnership between UTPA and Baylor to increase the number of physicians practicing in the medically underserved South Texas region. The program has produced 30 physicians and one doctor of optometry to date.
Students begin the eight-year long program as entering freshmen at UTPA and are offered conditional acceptance to BCM upon completion of undergraduate requirements at UTPA. Currently there are approximately 135 students in the pipeline between UTPA freshmen students to third-year residents, Wedig said.
The PHC provides students with rigorous academic preparation for medical school, as well as summer clinical, enrichment and research programs and experiences to improve preparation for medical school. Program participants receive an eight-year tuition and fees scholarship, which covers undergraduate and medical education.
The conditional acceptance requires students to maintain a 3.2 minimum overall GPA (on a 4.0 scale), and a 3.0 minimum science GPA, and to score a minimum of 26 on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) with no section less than seven.
The complete application includes: (1) an application to UTPA, (2) a separate premedical application involving four essay questions and information concerning high school honors, awards and extracurricular activities, (3) complete high school transcripts including SAT scores (ACT scores will not be accepted as a substitute), (4) information regarding coursework completed and in progress during a student's senior year, (5) completion of demographic information sheet which will be separated from the application when it is received, and (6) three letters of recommendation. PHC program applicants must also undergo a competitive interview process.
Wedig said the program at UTPA gives students excellent training for medical school in a familiar environment.
"The students who matriculate to Baylor from UTPA feel that they are as prepared as Harvard graduates and students entering medical school from other nationally reputable universities," she said. "Having students attend an undergraduate institution that is socially and culturally familiar is important in their success, as well as being in an environment where they are close to home and family support systems."
For more information about the PHC, contact Wedig at 956/316-7025.