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The first class of Upstate's new MedPrep program smile after learning they all were accepted to medical school.

Upstate’s first MedPrep class excels, prepares for medical school; applications for next cohort soaring

The first cohort of students in Upstate Medical University’s Medical Scholars Preparation Program have all been accepted to medical school.

The new, one-year master’s degree program was created to enhance a student’s academic record to make themselves competitive for medical schools. Enrolled students—there are five in the first class—spend the year strengthening their scientific background before attempting to enroll in medical school.

For MedPrep student Sara Vukojevic, the program has been the catalyst she needed to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Despite a solid resume and adequate MCAT scores, Vukojevic, of California, was rejected by all the medical schools to which she applied.

“It was devastating,” she said. “I’ve known I wanted to be a doctor for a very long time. It was a couple of months of depression and sadness and figuring out if this was the right path for me—if there was anything else that would make me happy. And I ended up settling on no, I want to be a doctor.”

Only about 41 percent of applicants to American medical schools for the 2018-2019 school year enrolled, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Medical schools are competitive and for students, the application process can be exhausting and expensive, with applications costing about $100 each.

Many medical schools, including Upstate, would previously recommend that some rejected applicants attend a master’s degree program at another university before applying again. The new Upstate MedPrep program responds to a regional need to provide a one-year, more affordable option that also guarantees a medical school admissions interview upon enrollment.

That guaranteed interview was attractive to members of the first MedPrep class. And while they are only about halfway done with their MedPrep year, all five have been accepted to Upstate’s College of Medicine.

“There’s no secret ingredient here. It’s the students in the MedPrep program that are making it successful,” said Aaron Glass, PhD, assistant professor of CHP-Clinical Laboratory Science and director of the MedPrep program. “We chose really strong students.”

Acceptance into Upstate’s MedPrep program is competitive. Applications are reviewed holistically but a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a score of 500 or more on the MCAT are recommended. Upstate admissions staff were expecting about 150 applications for its second class matriculating in fall 2020 but that number is shaping out to be much higher, said Krystal Ripa, director of special admissions programs at Upstate.

Since arriving on campus last August, MedPrep students have been taking a rigorous course load – often with professors they might have again as first-year medical students. The program also provides students with additional support services such as mentoring, admissions advisement, academic counseling and extended lab time to prepare them for medical school.

“We made the program academically and psychologically intense,” said Glass, noting that students had to prepare another round of time-consuming medical school applications.

“I’m more prepared for the pressures of medical school after being here,” said Alejandro Plascencia who is originally from Tijuana, Mexico but lived in New York City for 16 years. Both he and MedPrep student Austin Wong, of Queens, said they were drawn to Upstate’s program for its size and affordability.

“The small class size meant I could have that support system I needed and have so many resources readily accessible to me,” he said.

Vukojevic said she has valued getting to know her peers, Upstate’s mental health supports for students and the ability to volunteer her time.

“I think medical school is incredibly difficult and it’s important to have a community to have those supports,” she said.

Upstate’s MedPrep program seeks to help students from many backgrounds find a path to medical school. The traditional medical school admissions process is competitive enough; a student’s background shouldn’t be another determining factor, Ripa said.

“If medical school is the goal, we want to help students find a way to get there – no matter the path,” Ripa said.

Austin said he has enjoyed learning about the journeys of so many other first- and second-year medical students at Upstate.

“We have all had very different paths to where we are today,” Austin said. “We all have a lot of resilience and have overcome adversity. That has helped us recognize our differences but also bond over the similarities of our experiences and how it speaks to the community aspect of the program.”

To learn more about Upstate’s MedPrep program, visit MedPrep Academic Enhancement MS in Medical Technology or email [email protected].

Caption: Upstate Medical University MedPrep students smile for a photo after learning they were all accepted to the College of Medicine. They are (back row from left) Austin Wong, Alejandro Plascencia, (front row from left), Rachel Fisher, Natalie Crespo and Sara Vukojevic.