Accelerated Undergraduate, Medical School Program Officially Launches

By Nadia M. Whitehead

UTEP News Service

After years of intensive planning, preparation, and anticipation, the UT System’s Transformation in Medical Education (TIME) initiative is ready for takeoff at multiple universities, including The University of Texas at El Paso.

Fifteen entering freshmen have been chosen as the first cohort of future doctors and Miner alums who will achieve their undergraduate degrees and M.D.s in six years rather than eight.

Students who were accepted into A-PRIME TIME started school two weeks early and attended a pre-matriculation session, or boot camp, that included a tour of UTEP’s SIM lab. Photo courtesy of Juan BolañosStudents who were accepted into A-PRIME TIME started school two weeks early and attended a pre-matriculation session, or boot camp, that included a tour of UTEP’s SIM lab. Photo courtesy of Juan Bolaños

“We’re really excited that this is finally getting started. We’ve been thinking about this for four years now,” said Donna Ekal, Ph.D., associate provost of undergraduate studies at UTEP. “Students are going to be able to achieve their dreams in a shorter time frame and it’s going to cost them much less.”

Officially known as the Accelerated Professional, Relevant, Integrated Medical Education (A-PRIME) partnership of the UT System TIME initiative, the program forms a partnership between five institutions: UTEP, UT Brownsville, UT Pan American, UT Medical Branch at Galveston, and UT Medical School Houston.

Students who are accepted into A-PRIME TIME will study for three years at one of the three academic institutions then enroll in one of the two medical schools for the last three years of study.

“Acceptance into this program is a very competitive process,” said Ekal, who is also the principal investigator of A-PRIME TIME. “Since we’re speeding up the education process from from eight to six years, students must demonstrate the academic potential to do well.”

In fact, unlike most Miners who have yet to begin the fall 2013 semester, those who were accepted have already been on campus for two weeks attending a pre-matriculation session, or boot camp, that included lectures, panels, physician mentorship sessions, a tour of the SIM lab, group projects, and lessons on building clinical and communication skills.

“I think this is a great idea and I really like how everyone is giving us a lot of attention,” said Amir Rastegari, a biological sciences major who was accepted into the program. “[UTEP] is making sure that we have everything we need to become the doctors of the future, and it makes me feel special.”

The goal of the A-PRIME partners is to develop a model of physician education that will be widely recognized for its innovative approach, educational effectiveness, and the professionalism of its graduates. Curriculum will be accessible to a diverse group of students and the program is expected to produce competent, caring and compassionate physicians who learn about medical careers while developing a professional identity early on the academic timetable.As part of the boot camp students attended lectures and lessons on building clinical and communication skills, and medical school classroom teaching techniques. Photo courtesy of Juan BolañosAs part of the boot camp students attended lectures and lessons on building clinical and communication skills, and medical school classroom teaching techniques. Photo courtesy of Juan Bolaños

Viridiana Saenz, who is originally from Mexico and is majoring in biochemistry, said she applied to the program because she wants to help those in need.

“I used to care for my grandmother all the time when she was alive. Because of her, I want to become a geriatrics doctor and support the elderly,” she said. “I was so excited when I found out that I was accepted into this program – I thought, ‘My dream is finally coming true.’”  

In addition to earning a bachelor’s and M.D. in less time, other benefits of A-PRIME are supervised clinical experiences, faculty mentoring, biomedical research opportunities, and undergraduate summer programs in coordination with the medical schools.