‘Extraordinarily proud’: Medical school celebrates first graduates of Biomedical Sciences Master’s Program

"."In August, Katie Jones and Ernie Morton came to WMed as the first-ever members of the Bridge to MD Master’s Program.

Now, nine months later, they have reached a milestone on their road to becoming doctors and, as Dr. Greg Vanden Heuvel put it, “indelibly marked this school and this community.”

“We are extraordinarily proud of you,” Vanden Heuvel, director of the Bridge to MD Program, said Friday as he awarded Jones and Morton their Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degrees during a graduation reception at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus.

Friday was a day of celebration for Jones and Morton. It also, in many ways, is the beginning of the next chapter as they each will return to WMed this summer as members of the medical school’s MD Class of 2021.

The crowd who gathered Friday in the auditorium at the Upjohn Campus included several students, faculty and staff, as well as Jones’ and Morton’s family members.

The Bridge to MD Program was the first master’s program to be implemented at the medical school and it supports WMed’s mission to build a diverse and inclusive environment that will serve the medical needs of the community.

“It’s been a joy getting to know Katie and Ernie this year,” said Jean Shelton, the medical school’s director of Admissions and Student Life. “I know they will be leaders in the Class of 2021.”

At Friday’s graduation ceremony, Charlotte Milnes, WMed’s learning skills specialist, said the event was a celebration of the success Jones and Morton experienced in the pursuit of their master’s degrees.

She spoke of Morton’s awesome demeanor and how it came across daily in the manners and respect he showed to others.

“Ernie is the eternal optimist,” Milnes said. “His glass is not just full, it’s overflowing.”

Of Jones, Milnes awed at her strength “in mind and spirit.”

“She’s curious, she’s confident and she’s considerate,” Milnes said. “I look forward to (Katie and Ernie’s) next graduation in 2021.”

As medical school awaits Jones and Morton, they are both planning to take the MCAT this summer and return to WMed. The Class of 2021 will begin classes in late July.

Morton, who graduated in 2016 from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences, said earning his master’s degree at WMed was fulfilling and he was appreciative of the crowd that gathered at Friday’s graduation reception to support and congratulate him and Jones on their achievements.

“It’s just fulfilling and I really think this program was a perfect transition into medical school,” Morton said. “It was challenging, it was hard … I just like how it prepares you for medical school.

“It allows you to explore deeper into science. It opens so many doors.”

Jones, a graduate of the University of Dayton where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Science and Biology, said completing the master’s program has helped her get over any “initial angst” she would have had entering medical school in August. She said she appreciated “how invested the faculty and staff were in our success” and she feels like the program has equipped her with a stronger foundation in the sciences that will serve her well as she begins the pursuit of her MD degree.

“This has been the best opportunity I could have had,” Jones said. “I feel extremely prepared for medical school.”

For now, Jones has her eyes set on becoming a pediatric and adolescent medicine physician just like her mother, she said.

Dr. Carrie Sandborn, assistant professor for Family and Community Medicine and Jones’ and Morton’s scholar advisor at WMed, said Friday she has no doubt Jones and Morton “will both be amazing physicians.”

“I admire her confidence in herself,” Dr. Sandborn said of Jones. “I admire her strength.”

Of Morton, Sandborn said his success was rooted in his “calm demeanor, a silent strength, but an immeasurable presence.”

“I am grateful to be their advisor,” Sandborn said. “I’m thankful to be moving on with them to the next phase.”

As Morton reflected on his time in the master’s program at WMed, he said he is looking forward to returning to the Upjohn Campus this summer and getting a chance to take part in the hands-on learning in the MD program and working toward his dream of becoming a doctor.

“I love this place, I love these people,” Morton said. “I don’t really see how anyone could come here and not fall in love.”