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Med School Express

By Kelley Weiss

Kansas City, MO – Typically when American students start medical school they're in their mid-twenties and they have completed a degree at a four year college. But, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Medical School students enter the program right after high school, go to school all year round and complete their training in six years, compared to the eight years it takes most doctors. Few medical schools in the country offer such a program. But, students say they have to make sacrifices, like less time spent with friends, going to football games or having a summer vacation.

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Simon Khagi confidently walks into a room to take a patient history from Carolyn Gordon during clinic at Truman Medical Centers. He's 22 and sharply dressed wearing a crisp, burgundy shirt with a trendy paisley tie under his white lab coat. On most accounts Khagi would still be an undergraduate student starting his senior year in college. Instead he's part of UMKC's six year medical school that takes students right out of high school and it's one of two programs like it in the country. Khagi says the school attracts a certain type of person - mature 18-year-olds he describes as bright, type-A students.

Simon Khagi: "These programs are directed at individuals that you're out of high school, you know what you want to do and you go and do it."

In fact one of the defining characteristics of this program is the age of the students - they're young. Although Khagi had the early assurance of getting an MD he says for a kid right out of high school it can be overwhelming trying to handle the endless hours of studying, armloads of medical text books and extensive tests.

Simon Khagi: "You need to be mature to handle this program, that is one thing that needs to be a pre requisite to handle this program you are coming in as kids you know my dad came here and he saw these people and he said my God they're just children.'"

There are about 30 combined bachelor and MD programs around the country but most of them are seven or eight year programs. What makes UMKC medical school different is that students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree and an MD in six years. Khagi says this made sense to his immigrant family, he moved to the United States from Uzbekistan, part of the former republic of the Soviet Union, when he was a child. He says it's similar to European and Asian medical schools.

Simon Khagi: "He's going to go into this school, he's going to get an MD he's going to go into residency boom, boom, boom. And that's what made sense to them. And, I think that there are a lot of people in this school that come from that very sentiment. A lot of Indian families, Asian families."

Asian students make up almost 40 percent of the student population at UMKC's medical school. That's close to twice the national average at other medical schools. Louise Arnold, associate dean of education at UMKC's medical school, says some 100 students come to the program each year and only one in six applicants are accepted into the school. Factor in the intensity of studying medicine all year round, with only a month off, and starting the program right after high school and Arnold says from the beginning it is challenging.

Louise Arnold: "Well it is intense and certainly the program is not for everybody in some ways I think about it as getting on a merry go round and you better stay on that merry go round and you daren't fall off."

But, one in five students do fall off or chose to jump off the merry go round. And, withdrawing from the program can be pricey - UMKC's medical school has one of the most expensive tuition rates for a public medical school in the country with in state tuition at $28,000 and it's almost twice as much for out of state students.

Dr. David Wooldridge stuck with the program and now is an associate professor at the school and says it was a perfect fit for him. Students get the same curriculum, have to pass the same licensing exams and graduate with MDs but he says UMKC's medical school is unique in getting students in contact with patients.

David Wooldridge: "With four years of a continuity clinic experience, students here see more patients over the course of their medical school careers than any student at any medical school in North America."

Students don't have the traditional undergraduate experience but they say it's worth missing out on to gain the clinical experience. Although the med students at UMKC don't go to a four year college they still go to classes - like a recent behavioral science class Khagi attended. They look like everyday college students, wearing jeans and baseball caps. Some people even see these students as a bunch of Doogie Howsers, television's early 90s teenage doctor sitcom character.

But, Dr. Rika Maeshiro, assistant vice president in medical education for the Association of American Medical Colleges says having young students entering medicine has its benefits.

Rika Maeshiro: "This may be one of many ways or opportunities to capture and engage those students early on because the assurance of at least provisional acceptance to medical school is a very valued thing."

Maeshiro says although this program is not for every one and she doesn't expect a large number of medical schools to adopt the six year model at least it's an option for the niche of students who do seek out an accelerated program.

Related Links:

UMKC School of Medicine

Association of American Medical Colleges

Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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