Sabrina Chavez, a senior at Port Isabel High School, is excited about the prospects of earning a medical degree to become a physician.
"It seems like a great opportunity. It is so accelerated and totally different in the way it is taught, it is so hands-on and you get to learn in places like the anatomy lab. The facilities here are amazing," said Sabrina, who plans to apply for admission.
Chavez was among approximately 260 juniors and seniors from 22 Rio Grande Valley high schools who have exemplary SAT scores and displayed an interest in biology, chemistry and a possible medical career who were invited to hear about the A PRIME (Accelerated Professionally Relevant Integrated Medical Education)-TIME (transformation in Medical Education) or APT program, which will start with its first cohort of students at UTPA in Fall 2013.
APT is an accelerated B.S./M.D. program designed to decrease the time needed to earn a medical degree to as little as six years. It is a partnership between three undergraduate institutions - UTPA, University of Texas-Brownsville, and University of Texas at El Paso - as well as two medical schools - University of Texas Medical School in Houston and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. It will also include the new medical school planned for the Rio Grande Valley.
Besides saving tuition at UTPA and medical school, APT will include innovative enhancements to classroom learning and critical thinking, interdisciplinary and medically relevant classes, and experiential learning in research labs, simulated patient care and supervised clinical experiences. The program will provide professional development of communication and teamwork skills, cultural sensitivity and bioethics. Its students will also benefit from participating in summer programs at the medical schools and receiving formal mentoring by peers and faculty.
In his welcome to the students and parents, College of Science and Mathematics Dean Dr. John Trant described the APT program as very different than a more traditional medical education program, such as those UTPA has and will maintain with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
"A lot of the content will be gathered outside the classroom. In the classroom, we will focus on learning based on inquiry," he said. "From day one you will be playing doctor. This is going to be an important first step toward rejuvenating premed/medical education. I am very excited."
During the open house, attendees heard about financial aid and scholarship opportunities and were led on tours of UTPA's simulation, cadaver, and science research labs by Dr. Hassan Ahmad, chemistry professor, and Frank Ambriz, clinical assistant professor who heads UTPA Physician Assistant Program, the only PA program in Texas outside a medical school. Attendees also visited the new Center for Excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and science) to learn about the resources the center provides to students and faculty.
"We are very technology savvy. We are one of the few universities that have adult and baby SIMS (Simulated Instructional Manikin System) manikins. A lab like this helps you understand what you are studying - not just from the book ... but puts it in the real world perspective," said PA student and guide Christopher Dennett.
The open house also included presentations on the APT proposed curriculum, the upcoming new MCAT test requirements, and a talk by Edinburg physician and UTPA alumna Dr. Maria Madrid (B.S. '98) about the challenges and rewards of family practice. Several current pre-med students at UTPA also helped to answer student/parent inquiries.
Sabrina's mother Mary Chavez, an assistant principal in the Point Isabel ISD, said she was blown away after hearing about the program and touring the UTPA facilities.
"The facilities are top notch and the technology is really state of the art. I am very impressed. UTSA was one of her (Sabrina's) top choices ... but their program is seven years and this one is six. And the way they are planning to teach things, it's a totally different pedagogy - it's really hands on, team teaching, integrating all the areas of study," Mary said.
APT or A PRIME-TIME is the result a two-year grant awarded in 2011 from The University of Texas System TIME initiative that called for its academic and health institutions to propose and develop new programs to address current challenges to educate future, much-needed physicians and other health care professionals, including course duplication, curriculum content and duration, pedagogy and expense. The TIME model recommended institutions incorporate into their proposals non-traditional fields of study, competency based education, experiences to promote professional identity formation and methods to enhance teamwork and professionalism.
Med High School senior Rodrigo Maldonado appeared thrilled when he successfully "resuscitated" a SIMS baby while in the simulation lab tour, and stated he was surprised at the amount and quality of resources and equipment UTPA offers. He's even more excited about the opportunity to speed up his matriculation to obtain his B.S. and medical degree through the APT program, which he plans to apply to attend.
"I like the fact that you could possibly graduate in six years. That is important to me. My father passed away so I want to help my mother as soon as possible, to make sure she doesn't have to worry about me," he said.
Application deadline for entry into the APT program cohort that starts in Fall 2013 is Jan. 25.
Learn more about the A PRIME-TIME or APT program at their website utpa.edu/APT.