|Students strive for medical school success
by Cindy Abole
The proverb “practice makes perfect” is a saying that anyone looking to
achieve success in life can embrace. So when six smart and determined
young men and women were chosen from a field of applicants and invited
to attend a six-week intensive study program at MUSC aimed at preparing
them for a career in medicine, they eagerly agreed.
The MUSC Summer Institute program is a continuous and successful
collaborative program sponsored through the College of Medicine, Center
for Academic Excellence (CAE) and other groups created to help recruit
and prepare potential medical students from throughout the state
through rigorous study and professional academic preparation.
student Jason Curry advises Summer Institute student Sharonda Williams
about how to prepare for medical school interviews during a Aug. 3
lunch and discussion between institute students and current medical
students. Curry is joined by fellow students Adonteng Kwakye, Rahim
Wooley, Claudia Fields and Simon Brown. Not pictured is medical student
The program was established under MUSC’s Office of Diversity and has
evolved since its beginning in 1997. Organizers saw it as an effective
pipeline program for recruiting and preparing minority students seeking
medical and health care careers. Current applicants to the program
either must be a recognized minority or come from a rural town or
county in South Carolina. Participants also must have previously
applied to MUSC’s medical school.
This year’s class may not have been the largest group compared to
previous years, but the smaller number demonstrated a strong work
ethic, promise and a capacity to excel, said program director Myra
Haney Singleton. This year’s six participants were Prashant Bhenswala,
Ashley Davis, Kristen Forrest, Christopher “Cale” Homesley, Tanisha
Hutchinson and Sharonda Williams.
Students participated in the six-week academic program that focused on
test review and preparation, study skills and strategies, plus
discussions taught by medical school faculty and staff reviewing the
medical school admission process, career counseling, medical ethics,
professionalism and a host of related topics. Much of the curriculum
aims at reviewing science topics—physics, biology, general and organic
chemistry—all part of the Medical College Admissions Test or MCAT.
The six MUSC Summer
Institute students review notes with student instructor Aly Bourezza
for an upcoming practice test in organic chemistry. The group spent
their afternoons conducting physical sciences, biology physics, general
chemistry and verbal reasoning practice reviews featured on the Medical
College Admissions Test.
Greenwood resident and College of Charleston alumnus Kristen Forrest
was excited at the chance to participate in the summer institute.
Forrest, who applied to MUSC’s medical school last spring, needed to
improve her MCAT scores and was invited to be part of this
all-inclusive residential program. She’s currently on track to finish
her master’s degree in health, exercise and sports science from The
Citadel this December.
“I knew this was a good opportunity for me,” said Forrest, who arranged
to take six weeks off from her job to attend. “I’ve never regretted it.
The program has taught me so much about time management, balance and
skills that will be invaluable to me. It’s given me confidence in
myself to realize my potential and meet my dream to someday become a
The curriculum structure and academic support was led by CAE faculty
and coordinated under the leadership of co-program instructors Amena
Smith and Peter Tang, both Medical Scientist Training Program students
in the College of Graduate Studies. Both were supported by a dozen
fellow MSTP and medical student instructors in instruction and tutoring
Classes and seminars took place at the Colbert Education Center &
Library. Instructors incorporated key assessments and review techniques
from the start to gauge each student’s knowledge base and established
strategies to teach and review topics combined with continual tests,
feedback and homework, according to Smith, who has been an instructor
with the program since 2006. They even reworked the MCAT practice exam,
typically a five-hour test that recently transitioned from paper to
online, using a shorter format and focused on timing techniques for
individuals. They also were encouraged to register to take the MCAT
within two weeks following the end of the program Aug. 6.
“All the students did well and have shown good, steady improvement
based on the range of scores that we’ve recorded. Our philosophy is
practice…practice…practice,” said Smith, who expects all six students
to make it to medical school. “It was through their energy and
commitment that made this a fun and enlightening experience for all of
Just as important to the test taking and curriculum was the program’s
emphasis on bonding and social networking. Participants lived in dorms
provided for them by the College of Charleston. Smith and Tang
organized more social functions including dinners, happy hours,
activities such as Charleston RiverDogs baseball games, beach outings,
etc. Students also received temporary memberships to the fitness
facilities at the MUSC Wellness Center.
Singleton saw something special in this group from day one of the
program, which began June 28.
“From the beginning, this group was readily interested, engaged and
focused with their attitudes in completing this program,” said Haney,
director of academics and student support of the College of Medicine’s
dean’s office. “I was especially impressed with how quickly they bonded
as a team and encouraged each other. We established a great program
with a demanding schedule and these students rose to the challenge and
Participants also valued the chance to meet medicine faculty and staff
throughout the program. Student Tanisha Hutchinson felt at home and
taken care of throughout the program in regards to housing, parking,
meals and other needs. A May pathology master’s graduate from MUSC,
Hutchinson always saw herself working in medicine as a doctor. She
liked how the program addressed medical professionalism and realized
the value of students transitioning from a school setting to a
professional environment working with patients.
Less than a week after the program ended in early August, Hutchinson
was the second student from the group to take the MCAT. Her classmates
soon followed taking the test within the following week. Although they
won’t know their official results for a month, most believed they had
made overall improvements in their efforts.
“I feel confident that I performed much better on the test after
completing the Summer Institute,” said Hutchinson. “There were certain
questions and topics on the test that I specifically remember going
over during the program. Also, the amount of practice tests we took
really helped boost my confidence and prepared me for how the test
would ‘feel’ as far as having enough stamina to get through the test.”
For now, the students will return to jobs and activities they
were involved with prior to the institute’s start. Some will begin or
return to their master’s studies and others will start new jobs in
health care until they re-apply again this fall in hopes of
matriculating in August 2011.
Friday, Aug. 20, 2010