The Medical School Journey Begins: Larner Welcomes the Class of 2023

August 15, 2019 by Jennifer Nachbur

It’s August 12—day one of orientation. Looking across the Sullivan Classroom at the smiling, anxious faces of 124 new medical students, it’s hard to imagine their individual journeys that led to this point. But they found their way to medicine, and they are needed. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “The United States will see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply.”
It’s August 12—day one of orientation. Looking across the Sullivan Classroom at the smiling, anxious faces of 124 new medical students, it’s hard to imagine their individual journeys that led to this point. But they found their way to medicine, and they are needed. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “The United States will see a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply.”

The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont is doing its part to address that shortage. Its newest class of medical students is not only the largest in the history of the college, but also, the result of a record number of applications, totaling more than 6,700. The students hail from 22 different states and, as a group, their median GPA is 3.7 and their median MCAT score is 511. More than a quarter of them will spend their third and fourth years at the College’s Connecticut branch campus, doing clinical training at Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals. Each of them has a unique background and reason for wanting to pursue a career in medicine.

“Learn from each other’s stories, because they are worth listening to,” said Associate Dean for Admissions Janice Gallant, M.D., in her remarks during the Class of 2023’s Welcome session.

Class of 2023 member Alex Jenkins’ story begins at age six, when she and her parents found out she had type 1 diabetes—an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a vital hormone that transports glucose from food into the body’s cells for energy. “There’s more to people than just their diagnosis,” said the Smithfield, R.I. native. She is not the only one in her family with the disease; her father and one of her sisters also live with type 1 diabetes.

Alex’s pediatric endocrinologist had a significant impact on both her and her family as they navigated managing a chronic condition, and ended up serving as her mentor and inspiration to study medicine. Over the past 18 years, she’s proven time and time again that, despite her diagnosis, she can take care of herself and achieve at the highest level. She became an activities and leader-in-training director at her childhood overnight camp for kids with type 1 diabetes; she played Division 1 varsity soccer, including serving as a two-year captain, and was an Honors College student and neuroscience major at UVM; she’s been a CrossFit coach and strength and conditioning coach for youth athletes. In the future, she hopes to become a pediatrician. “Kids have an untapped potential for hope and are so positive,” says Alex, who plans to rely on her background in health and fitness to promote wellness and help people with chronic conditions.

“I must warn you that even if you think you know what you are going to do, you might be surprised to find a passion that you never anticipated,” Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., told the students in his welcoming remarks. 

New medical student and U.S. Marine veteran Justin Schulz agrees. Born and raised on a family farm near Fargo, N.D., he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009 and commissioned as a Marine Air Intelligence Officer. Despite his formal designation, he served primarily as a Headquarters Company Commander while on active duty, leading and coordinating training operations throughout Asia and the North Pacific, and later assisted in reactivating a decommissioned infantry battalion in response to the emerging threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. After leaving active duty in 2016, Justin joined Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign staff as a regional Get Out the Vote coordinator in North Carolina, later transitioning to the Office of the Governor of North Dakota where he assisted with the peaceful resolution of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest. With the birth of his nephew, and his nephew’s subsequent diagnosis of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, Justin departed public service in 2017 to assist his brother’s family while his nephew underwent a bone marrow stem cell transplant. This experience proved transformative for both his now-healthy nephew and Justin.  

“Following my nephew’s successful transplant, I took time to reflect on my experiences and design the next chapter of my life,” said Justin. “I realized the portion of my military service I most enjoyed was assisting and mentoring junior sailors and marines, and working with a dedicated, professional team of individuals. My exposure to medicine during my nephew’s treatment demonstrated to me medicine’s profound capacity to assist individuals in need, and the alignment of a career in medicine with my personal goals, desires, and preferences.” After taking several college science courses in preparation for the MCAT, he applied and was accepted to attend the Larner College of Medicine.

Identifying strong medical student candidates like Justin is the work of the many volunteers that help the Larner admissions process be successful. There are 140 multiple mini-interview (MMI) interviewers and more than 200 people on the Admissions Committee. 

The support of the Larner Office of Admissions staff helped Westchester, N.Y. native Akua Frimpong realize her dream of studying medicine. The daughter of immigrants who came to the U.S. to become nurses, she describes herself as a passionate perpetual learner who seeks “opportunities that help me gain meaningful life experiences and keep me open-minded about the world and the people I interact with,” she said. Watch an NBC5 television news interview with Akua and Assistant Dean for Students Shaden Eldakar-Hein.

A former high school science teacher and middle school teacher, Akua says her involvement with the Student Natialexonal Medical Association during college connected her to “people who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds and provided me with opportunities to learn about the field of medicine.” The affiliation also led her to create the Minority Association of Premedical Students chapter at her university. “I want to work with underserved populations and reduce health disparities and social determinants that keep marginalized communities from having the resources they need,” said Akua, who’s a strong proponent for promoting STEM and health careers to young people – especially African American females – by engaging community schools, health professionals, and others as teachers. 

“We are tremendously proud to have recruited this class and are confident in your success, not just in completing medical school, but in becoming a compassionate, highly professional physician,” said Dean Page, to members of the Class of 2023 on their first day.

UVM’s newest medical students finish their Orientation course on August 16 and begin the Foundations of Clinical Science course on August 19. They will receive their first white doctors’ coats at the White Coat Ceremony in Ira Allen Chapel on October 4, 2019.


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