The Oak Street Residence Hall was abuzz Thursday morning, move-in day for dozens of first-year students in the UMKC School of Medicine.
“I’ve known for a long time that I want to be a physician, and there’s not really another program like this,” said Bianca Ituarte, referring to UMKC’s accelerated program in which students can earn a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree in just six years. “I’m also excited because of all the diversity among the students.”
Ituarte, who is from St. Louis, said her parents are lawyers, and she would be the first physician in her family. “I heard about UMKC from a dentist we know who went through an accelerated dental program at Northwestern. He said the students in the UMKC program are the whiz kids of medicine.”
Another new arrival, Mauli Patel, said she also was drawn by UMKC’s six-year program.
“I have been interested in medicine at least since my sophomore year in high school,” said Patel, who is from a Chicago suburb. “That’s also when I visited UMKC.”
Like many students accepted by the School of Medicine, Ituarte and Patel went beyond their high school classes to distinguish themselves. Ituarte had an internship at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University, one of just three U.S. gene sequencing centers financed by the National Institutes of Health. And Patel was active in HOSA-Future Health Professionals and its Competitive Events Program, which offers a series of competitions designed to enhance learning about health care.
The new students said they knew that the UMKC program would be rigorous, but that they already felt welcomed and supported.
Each first-year student has a second-year medical student mentor, someone they can be in touch with even before they move to the campus, and who will help them throughout their first year.
“I met my second-year in June at orientation,” Patel said. “And my class has a chat room, using the GroupMe app, so we can ask questions and get to know each other.”
Her father, Mehul Patel, a software engineer, said the School of Medicine’s system and the age of smartphones made his daughter’s entry into college much different from his.
“She already knew her mentor and her roommate,” he said. “When I first showed up at college, I didn’t know anyone.”
Several School of Medicine staff members were on hand to greet and help the students, along with a big group from UMKC’s Residential Life staff. The School of Medicine’s interim dean, Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, who earned her M.D. at UMKC, greeted the first wave of students and met their parents.
Many of the second-year mentors also showed up, providing moral and muscle support – and getting a chance to remember their own first-year butterflies.
Jordan Grimmett, from St. Louis, said he was grateful for the help he received a year ago and wanted to do the same for the new students.
“It was difficult adjusting but fun,” he said, “and I had a good first year, finished strong.”
Another second-year student from St. Louis, Erin Galakotos, said, “We’ve gone through orientation with them, and now move-in day, and we’ll all be together and play some games tonight.”
All the attention and support wasn’t lost on Ituerte.
“This is a real community,” she said. “People look out for each other.”