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Accelerated Medical Degree Program Welcomes First Students

Six high school graduates have been accepted to the College of Medicine – Tucson’s new accelerated MD program.

Accelerated Medical Degree Program Welcomes First Students

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson admitted its first group of students to the Accelerated Pathway to Medical Education (APME) Program, a new seven-year medical degree early-admission program.

Yi-Jen YangAcceptance to the APME program guarantees students entry to the UArizona Honors College as undergraduates and, after three years, early admission to the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. Students are not required to complete a bachelor’s degree, which reduces the length of time from undergraduate to medical degree from eight years to seven. The program also waives the Medical College Admission Test requirement for medical school admission.

The APME students are: Ivan Carrillo, Nogales High School, Nogales; Makenna Ley and Nikhil Mathur, University High School, Tucson; Kyra Singh, BASIS North High School, Tucson; Pu-Kai “Phil” Tseng, Union High School, Camas, Washington; and Yi-Jen Yang, BASIS Oro Valley High School, Oro Valley. They will begin classes when the UArizona fall semester starts August 23.

Nikhil Mathur

Students are free to pursue their own path of study while completing medical school prerequisites and maintaining a minimum GPA under the guidance of faculty and student mentors from the College of Medicine – Tucson.

“We’re reaching out to students who are committed to medicine for their future,” said Tejal M. Parikh, MD, associate dean of admissions. “With APME, they have the flexibility to take classes that will allow them to become well-rounded individuals and excellent physicians.” 

The students went through a rigorous admissions process that took into account grades, research and clinical experience, and service and leadership, said APME Director Zoe Cohen, PhD, a physiology associate professor and director of the college’s Honors College Early Assurance Program (HEAP) and Baccalaureate Programs.

Leading the Way

Makenna LeyThe students share many of the same attributes, said Emily Leyva, director of admissions for the College of Medicine – Tucson.

“They all demonstrated leadership, clear motivation for pursuing medicine and a service orientation,” Leyva said.

Two are Flinn Scholars. One is a Baird Scholar. And, one is the recipient of the Gen. George C. Marshall Youth Leadership Award.

Four students launched nonprofit organizations, including Singh and Ley, who co-founded the nonprofit Stitches with friends to make masks for health workers, assemble hygiene kits for the homeless, provide grocery delivery for the elderly and tutor students.

“Stitches gave us a way to be actively involved,” Singh said. “The pandemic really showed us the health disparities in the U.S. That is when I got really interested in pursuing a master’s in public health. We got to see communities that were being disproportionately affected, and we started to aim our resources toward them, working with homeless shelters and foster children.”

Ley volunteers at Stitches and the tutoring service The Together Program. Tutoring was also a focus of Mathur, who started the nonprofit Peer 2 Peer Tutoring after witnessing a friend with a chronic disease struggle academically after missing class.

Phil Tseng

The Keys to Success

Four of the incoming freshmen are alumni of the BIO5 Institute’s KEYS Research Internship, a seven-week summer program offering hands-on experience to high school students interested in bioscience, engineering, environmental health, data science and biostatistics.

Carrillo’s KEYS research project with UArizona biomedical engineer and neuroscientist Elizabeth Hutchinson, PhD, focused on brain imaging. His interest in the field was spurred by his grandfather’s death.

Carrillo’s grandfather fell down the stairs and was taken to a hospital in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico in 2018. He died three days later. Through it all, Carrillo noticed a lack of resources, including nurses and physicians.

“From that day, I knew I had to change the world of medicine and aid those who need assistance,” said Carrillo, who will be the first from his family to attend college.

Kyra Singh

Yang’s participation in KEYS, and her interest in medicine, was also sparked by a close connection – watching her best friend’s recovery from an injury.

“I like to think it was then, the big ‘wow’ moment for me, where I realized I wanted to be a part of someone’s recovery journey, helping them smile again and get back on their feet,” Yang said.

During the KEYS program, she worked alongside cardiologist Marvin Slepian, MD, whose lab focuses on platelets, coagulation and blood flow therapeutics. She also volunteers with the American Red Cross, Make-A-Wish Arizona and Bridge to Literacy, teaching English online to underserved communities in Honduras.

While other students spent their summers volunteering or preparing for college, Tseng took a different approach: he completed U.S. Air Force Reserves basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Ivan Carrillo

While volunteering in a cardiovascular intensive care unit, Tseng, born in Taiwan, realized he wanted to pursue a career that would allow him to break down the barriers to health care fellow immigrants face.

Tseng was accepted as a Physiology and Medical Science Major in the college’s Baccalaureate Programs and won an Arizona Distinction Award before learning about APME.

“I researched a lot of programs and realized this rigorous, accelerated program was perfect for me,” he said.