Saratoga County

Shenendehowa to offer early medical school acceptance

A new program that may be the first of its kind in the nation will allow one medicine-minded Shenend

A new program that may be the first of its kind in the nation will allow one medicine-minded Shenendehowa High School student to get accepted to college and medical school early — a few months before the junior prom.

More than a year before classmates know where they’re going after graduation, one student who undergoes a rigorous application process will be accepted into Siena College’s and Albany Medical College’s combined eight-year physician program. On Thursday, officials from the school district and both colleges announced the program — “ShenNext Medicine: Selecting Tomorrow’s Doctors Today.”

They believe the program is the first in the country to admit a student as a junior, though many institutions have partnerships that accept high school seniors to undergraduate colleges and medical schools at the same time. Siena and Albany Medical College have had such a partnership for 27 years, and Albany Med has similar programs with Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Juniors in the Shen program still have to complete their senior year and maintain good grades.

“We’re very, very, very excited about it right now,” said Rebecca Carman, director of policy and community development at the Shenendehowa Central School District. “This is a great opportunity for students.”

The district sent letters to the top 10 percent of the sophomore class — 75 students — telling them they qualified to apply to the program; those who were interested were invited to an informational meeting Thursday.

Students will write an essay to apply and three to five finalists will be selected next month. They will participate in a special mentoring program with Siena College students who are enrolled in the combined medical program.

The Siena students also get to help decide who makes the cut.

“They’re going to be sort of the vetting process,” said Dr. Vincent Verdile, dean of Albany Medical College.

The selected student will be announced in January and will get a $16,000-per-year scholarship to Siena for four years. That amount is about half of Siena’s $31,368 tuition for 2013-14.

Those who don’t make the cut still have plenty of time to get into medical school the traditional way, during their senior college year, though the pool of candidates is much larger that way: Albany Medical College gets about 9,000 applications every year for a freshman class of 135 to 140. And 45 of those slots are reserved for RPI, Siena, and UAlbany students in the combined program, Verdile said.

There’s no obligation for the selected Shen student to attend Siena if he or she decides to take a different path after high school, he said.

A secondary goal of the partnership is keeping local students in the area as they become physicians, something that’s a priority for Verdile. He is a Capital Region native who grew up in Troy, went to Union College and Albany Medical College, completed his residency in Pittsburgh and then returned to the area.

Because medical schools are highly competitive, local residents often move out of the area and they often have to move again for residencies. Medical students often get jobs and live where they complete their residencies, Verdile said.

“This hopefully is one way we can endear these people to staying in the Capital Region.”

A nationwide physician shortage is expected in the future, Verdile said, adding, “I think the Capital District’s not immune to that.”

The program grew out of an existing career exploration partnership between Shen and Albany Med, he said.

Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson and James Barba, president and CEO of Albany Medical Center, started talking about how else the two educational institutions might work together to benefit students, he said.

Carman said staff from all three schools then spent about a year planning and putting together the program.

Verdile expects the medical school will look to offer a similar early acceptance program to other local high schools in a few years, after seeing how the Shen partnership goes.

Siena and Albany Medical College blazed a trail when they started the eight-year combined program in 1986. It was the first of its kind in the United States, said Edward LaRow, who directs the program at Siena.

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