Shelby Howard and Aditi Talkad might be in their first year at Medical College of Georgia but the two have been at Augusta University working toward a medical degree for three years.
The two are among 29 students who began the seven-year BS/MD program in 2014, 18 of whom are now in their first year of medical school. The combined undergraduate and health sciences programs were envisioned as one of the fruits of consolidating Augusta State and then-Georgia Health Sciences universities in 2013. Dr. Paul Wallach, vice dean for academic affairs at MCG, brought the program with him five years ago after creating similar programs at the University of South Florida.
“This is my brainchild,” he said, and it benefits both the students and the university.
“The advantage for the student is they have a clear pathway into medical school,” Wallach said. “The advantage for the institution, which I thought was considerable as we were going through our consolidation, is it creates a premier program for recruitment into the undergraduate campus and permits very highly performing students to be recruited to Augusta University.”
Both Howard and Talkad were considering other, larger universities in Georgia and had not heard much about Augusta prior to learning about the program. Now that has changed.
“Augusta is a lot more on the map from at least when I started college,” Howard said.
“I think the program has put it on the map,” Talkad said. “There are people applying from out of state, from California, to come here to come to Augusta.” She and Howard both talk to high school students about the program and its advantages.
The students along the way have had to meet the same or higher standards for others getting into medical school, including taking the Medical College Admission Test and interviewing with the Admissions Committee. The difference with these students is they had to face the committee when they were college freshmen. But they got a lot of support from the medical school faculty before they had to do it, including three mock interviews.
“They groomed us for that interview,” Howard said. It also let them know the level of professionalism and standards they would need to succeed in medical school, Talkad said. Some of their new classmates may just now be finding out they are surrounded by people with similar interests and passions but “we’ve been doing that for the past three years,” she said. “That was a huge benefit of coming here.”
It also spared them the anxiety of applications and months of waiting to find out if they would get in or not. Howard took an MCAT preparation class with students going through that process and “they were so stressed out of their minds,” she said. “It saved us that, which I am grateful for.”
“And a year,” Talkad added. That will be important down the road “especially with how much time goes into becoming a doctor,” Howard said.
The experience has also bonded them into a close-knit group that is “family” to each other, Talkad said.
“Especially because college is such a time of personal growth and figuring out who you are so we’ve gone through those growing periods and growing pains with each other,” Howard said.
And they expect it to stay that way.
“You grow up so much with them that you don’t lose track of that,” Talkad said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213