Hoof Prints: SAHS senior finalist for U of M medical school fasttrack program

Senior Sydney O’Neal is a finalist is for a new University of Minnesota medical school program. (Submitted photo)
Senior Sydney O’Neal is a finalist is for a new University of Minnesota medical school program. (Submitted photo)

This piece is brought to you by Hoof Prints, a partnership between The Gazette and The Pony Express, Stillwater Area High School’s student newspaper.

By Tiana Meador
Pony Express

As college commitment comes to a close, the University of Minnesota medical school is assessing 10 incoming freshmen who are going to be selected to participate in an accelerated seven-year med program for med school.

Of the students initially considered, the U of M has cut the number to 20. One local student who is in the top 20, is senior Sydney O’Neal. The new BA/MD Pipeline Program, which cuts med school short by a year, is quite a milestone to be in the top 20 in consideration. Last year, separate from the program, there were 4226 applicants, with only 170 (160 MD, 10 MD/PhD) admitted.

O’Neal said, “60 were picked to apply and from that we had to write essays, then they narrowed that down to the 20 and then we had to go to the U of M and do interviews almost all day.”

The interviews which were conducted mid-Feb., were led by a panel from the Medical School and the College of Liberal Arts.

“There really wasn’t any way to study for them, or know what they would ask. You had to think on your feet,” O’Neal said.

Throughout the interviews, applicants got reviewed for certain characteristics that the Association of American Medical Colleges have considered valuable. Having a strong direction is a proven advantage to any interview, and for O’Neal, dermatology was a no-brainer; from her own experiences she knows that having confidence in your skin is essential.

O’Neal said, “I know how hard it is for people to be confident in themselves when they have acne or anything on their skin and I want people to feel confident in themselves. Also my grandma has skin cancer and I know how hard it was for her, so I want to help others in that position.”

Taisha Mikell, the school’s director of pipeline programs told Minnesota Daily, “Our review team is looking for medically related experience. We want to make sure that they are mature, because this is going to be an early and long-term commitment to the field of medicine.”

Undergraduate degree requirements for this program include biology, society and environment, or physiology, and the students have to be accepted into CLA. The interviewers strongly focused on an interest in medical careers, factored in grades, and experience with AP/CIS courses throughout high school were considered.

“Basically everyone had a 4.0,” O’Neal said. “They never said anything about that, but they did say they looked for people who received A’s in AP or CIS courses. I guess the only one that would apply to the medical degree is CIS human anatomy, which I am taking right now, and it’s not hard to manage, it’s really interesting.”

Managing accelerated course has proven fairly easy for O’Neal. On top of finishing her work in her harder classes, O’Neal is a part of Mock Trial, The Young Republicans club, and has participated in soccer.

Senior Alyssa Lammers, teammate of O’Neal said, “She is very attentive and participates a lot. You can tell she cares a lot about learning not just getting points.”

Despite her hard work, including extracurriculars, O’Neal plans on not becoming discouraged, in the event that she does not get into the top 10 admitted.

O’Neal said, “There will be I think scholarship money if I get in, if I don’t get in I’ll still go to the U and go to med school.”

Although with slim chances of getting in when first applying, the program is set to hopefully promote students to stay within Minnesota’s workforce. First proposed in 2015, is to meet its workforce goal by offering mentorship, exposure, and encouragement to BA/MD students. Ensuring that professionals work with undergraduates and student services, promotes the idea that students will be able to get the help they need when they are struggling, which adds positivity to the rigorous fast-track medical degree.

The college of Liberal Arts’ associate dean of curriculum, Nanette Hanks, has worked with the planning team of the program, noting that about 50 other medical schools have similar programs. Hanks’ main focus is assisting students through their intensive and lengthy journey.

“We want to make sure that the students are going to be supported,” she said, adding that the medical school has recruited 10 physicians outside of the University to mentor the students. “It’s part of our effort to train our own workforce,” Hanks told Minnesota Daily.

“I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity and I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten,” O’Neal said.

Research throughout the U.S. shows positive progression in medical school staff, specifically within accelerated degree programs. The opportunities that O’Neal have been presented with even making it to the top 20 are sure to resonate throughout her future education. A hard worker, O’Neal looks forward to a strong, future career in dermatology.

“She cares about people and school and it shows through all of her actions, which is a great quality for a med program,” Lammers said.