MISSOULA – As the application year for medical school winds down, an impressive class of University of Montana students has been accepted into a host of the nation’s top medical schools.
Among them: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Stanford University of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Yale School of Medicine, Vanderbilt School of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine and UC San Diego School of Medicine.
The American Association of Medical Colleges reflects a national average medical school acceptance rate of 41%. At UM, the acceptance rate for pre-med majors so far this year is 70%.
“We’re very pleased with this exceptional class of students,” said Mark Pershouse, pre-medical sciences director and associate professor in UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “It’s certainly a year of success for these bright, accomplished and unique students, and it’s also a win for us as an institution to see that our formula of student support and intensive academic advising is working.”
Pershouse added that while a 70% acceptance rate is impressive, it’s not the highest UM has seen in its history. The program had a peak of 88% acceptance in 2013, and over the last 14 years has achieved an average of 61% acceptance. He said not only is UM’s acceptance rate well above the national average, it’s also inspiring given the surge in American students applying to medical school.
The pandemic has inspired a new generation of doctors, so much so that the Association of American Medical Colleges saw nearly an 18% increase in 2021-22 med school applicants. This was dubbed the “Fauci effect.”
Applying to medical school involves a process that lasts well over one year, beginning in May and lasting through August. Many UM students graduate in the spring and choose to take a “gap” year to complete recommended activities such as physician shadowing, volunteering or hands-on medical experience.
That was true for Madison Reichelt of Big Sandy, who graduated from UM with degrees in human biological sciences and integrative physiology last year. During her time at UM, Reichelt completed the pre-med track and picked up a medical assistant certificate from Missoula College. Reichelt now works as a medical assistant at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, and is accepted into the WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Washington. About 4% of applicants are accepted into WWAMI's six campuses overall, and about 25% of Montana residents are accepted.
Reichelt said because of her training at UM, which included peer-leading classes coupled with a meaningful clinical internship at Community Medical Center with Dr. Tondy Baumgartner, she feels prepared for medical school.
“The best decision I made was attending UM and taking advantage of all that was offered to me,” Reichelt said. “In my work now, I understand a large majority of what the doctors are talking about. That’s a testament to the serious training at UM and excellent faculty in anatomy and physiology and chemistry and basically all of the coursework. It’s also the time outside of class that prepared me and all of the time each and every faculty gave me advice and guidance.”
Pershouse said UM’s focus on wide and deep preparation for medical school is unique. At UM, students studying pre-medical sciences participate in an advising program that helps students become well informed and aware of the diversity of health care professions, with access to professionals, mentorship and support at every turn.
That program is complemented by eight faculty mentors, four clinical mentors and two staff members who bring a wealth of expertise and passion and a dedicated team, Pershouse said. The pre-med coursework includes the requirements for application to medical school in addition to a class, taught by Pershouse, on the logistics, timeline and formula of medical school applications. The class also invites diverse practitioners in health care to share details about their work and have candid conversations regarding the investment in time, patient care and challenges of the field.
Pershouse said it’s necessary for for undergraduates to combine UM’s pre-med path with another major like biology, neuroscience, microbiology, English or a major in any of UM’s colleges. Most pre-med students pursue majors in the College of Humanities and Science, but applicants in the last five years have come from 20 different majors in several colleges on campus.
The key is for the student to find something they are passionate about and also get the prerequisite coursework for medical school done, Pershouse said.
“Whatever professional interest a student might have, we provide them the academic and science training needed to apply,” he said. “Students are also provided multiple opportunities for hands-on training by arranging for them to shadow doctors and volunteer in clinics. We do our best at being transparent about the uniqueness of each field and prepare them to enter several professional tracks.”
Sophie Friedl from Agoura Hills, California, graduated from UM in 2016 with a degree in sociology with a concentration in inequality and social justice, and minors in global public health, international development studies and biology. In the six years since graduating, Friedl has kept in touch with her UM professors, keeping them abreast of accomplishments like attaining a master’s degree in public health and working for Sen. Jon Tester on the U.S. Senate Committee for Veterans Affairs. Friedl decided it was time to apply to medical school and reached out to UM faculty for support.
“Three of my letter writers for medical school were from UM,” Freidl said. “And even though it’s been some time since I graduated, they were still incredibly committed to my success. UM has a unique focus on individual mentorship and tailoring support to whatever it is a particular student is interested in and where they want to go. I was able to get so much exposure to the different kind of jobs in the health care field, and I’m able to see now how the curriculum works together and really prepares you.”
This year, Friedl underwent seven medical school interviews, was accepted to three schools and waitlisted at three more. This fall she plans to attend the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, an institution with a 2.4% acceptance rate.
Pershouse said every student arrives with a different background story or passion when it comes to wanting to work in health care. That passion, combined with a rigorous curriculum and mentorship is paying off, he said, as the college sees scores on the Medical College Admissions Test that are above the national average.
Last year, UM alumnus Devin Hunt scored in the 100th percentile on the MCAT. As of press time, Hunt is deciding among various competitive, application offers to nationally ranked Md-Ph.D. programs.
“Not every student who has their heart set on medical school gets accepted,” Pershouse said. “But that doesn’t mean our support, counsel or advice stops at that point. Sometimes it means adjusting application materials, getting more experience or talking through alternatives and different routes to support a student getting to where they desire to have an impact.
“Our staff and faculty are proud of each and everyone of these students and we know their impact on health care, patient care and the field are going to be important.”
Contact: Mark Pershouse, pre-medical sciences director, UM Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 406-243-4769, firstname.lastname@example.org.