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A future in medicine: Local teens hone career goals and earn academic credit via summer enrichment program at CMSRU

Over the past five years, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) has offered a four-week summer program for high school students who want to enhance their academic portfolio, while also gaining firsthand knowledge about the medical school experience. The competitive, tuition-based program, called MEDacademy, has helped close to 200 future college-bound students make informed decisions about academic majors and future career goals.

“Our program, which allows students to earn three college credits at Rowan University, offers rigorous science-based lectures, the opportunity to do a health research project and exposure to medical students and health professionals,” explains Kristyn Kent, MEDacademy program director. “After five summers, we are already seeing the impact of our program. Our MEDacademy alumni have become successful college students, with several on a pathway to a health career.”

Back on the “medicine train”

Srishti Dhar of Mount Laurel, NJ, was almost certain she wanted to be a lawyer, but applied to MEDacademy in 2016 at the suggestion of her mother, who thought it would be a good way for her to know if law was her true passion. As it turns out, it wasn’t.

Today, Dhar is a first-year medical student at CMSRU.

“MEDacademy had such a big impact on my life and I didn’t even realize it at the time,” said Dhar, who was a student at Lenape High School when she participated in MEDacademy. “It is why I applied to the 3+4 program at Rowan University.”

Through Rowan’s Accelerated seven-year program, or the highly selective 3+4 program, Dhar completed her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in three years, and transitioned directly into CMSRU, shaving a full year off the traditional journey toward earning an MD degree. The applicants vary each year, but historically, students have had a 3.5 GPA, with competitive SAT or ACT scores. Successful applicants must also demonstrate a passion for medicine, an interest in the mission of their intended medical school, and a strong desire to attend Rowan University.

For Michael Giunta, of Mays Landing, NJ, participating in MEDacademy in 2017, and advanced-level MED Masters in 2018, only reinforced his goal to become a doctor.

Giunta, a graduate of St. Augustine Preparatory School in Richland, NJ, is now a second-year biology major at Rowan University. He was considering attending college at other universities, but credits his experience during MEDacademy for cementing his choice to attend Rowan.

“Based on the learning environment in MEDacademy, I knew I wanted to go to medical school at CMSRU,” explains Giunta, who is also part of CMSRU’s 3+4 program and is expected to become a medical student in the fall of 2022.

The right experience at the right time

One unique aspect of MEDacademy is the close involvement of current CMSRU students. Medical students teach lectures, lead active learning groups (ALGs) and are accessible to students to assist with their health research projects. They also build relationships and share personal experiences from their own educational journeys. In addition, MEDacademy students interact with a range of health professionals, including physicians, nurses, biomedical scientists and physician assistants among others. These medical professionals offer unique perspectives and insight that can be life-changing for students as they plan for their futures.

For Dhar, the exposure to medical students, faculty and other health care professionals, all of whom generously shared their personal educational and career paths, was a game-changer. She also created lasting friendships with other likeminded teens – one of whom later became her college roommate at Rowan.

Giunta agrees that the connections made during MEDacademy are a key strength of the program, particularly the interactions he had with the current medical students. “I learned so much from them, particularly Sneha Kolla and Shouli Tung, who provided so much information and were always available to answer questions and share their experiences,” he says.

Knowing it’s a good fit

CMSRU has often been described as a medical school with a soul – a place that embodies a culture of academic excellence as well as humanism and service. It attracts students who not only excel academically, but those who embrace servant leadership.

This culture aligned perfectly with Dhar’s personal values, and is what drew her to CMSRU – both during MEDacademy and now, as a full-time medical student. She admired CMSRU’s commitment to having its students complete at least 40 hours of service for the Camden community each year, and recognized the value of having service learning time built directly into the curriculum.

While it has been challenging to work in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dhar has continued to help others. She works as a prenatal coach through the Camden Prenatal Collaborative and assists in care coordination. Additionally, Dhar volunteers at COVID-19 vaccine clinics, helping vaccinate the community. “This hands-on experience has been transformative as a first-year medical student,” she notes.

In his second year at Rowan, Giunta is aligned with CMSRU’s culture of service. He’s on the e-board of the pre-health club at Rowan University and serves as a trainer for Get FIT (Fitness, Integration and Training), where he works as a personal fitness coach for participants with special needs. In addition, Giunta is a recovery support specialist at a rehabilitation center and plans to continue to target substance abuse as a medical student at CMSRU.

The future is bright

Dhar and Giunta are not the only MEDacademy alumni who are doing exceptionally well in the academic pursuits. MEDacademy has a 100 percent immediate college enrollment rate and our alumni have attended colleges throughout the region, including Yale, Georgetown and Boston University, as well as Rutgers and Rowan.

MEDacademy attracts students from all over the tri-state region and has had students from as far as Massachusetts and North Carolina participate in the program. Students who enroll must be rising high school third or fourth years in fall 2021 and must be in excellent academic standing. The program combines lectures, active learning and health research, along with interactive activities. Upon successful completion of MEDacademy, students earn three academic undergraduate credits from Rowan University, which can be applied directly to the traditional Biology major (credits will be deemed elective for students with other majors).

Click here for more information about MEDacademy. Summer 2021 will be conducted via virtual learning from July 6 – July 30.