Medical school honors graduates of Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree program

Eight students spent the last academic year in WMed's Bridge to MD Program.
In the last academic year, eight students earned Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degrees as part of the medical school's Bridge to MD Program.

A diverse group of students were a part of the medical school's third cohort in the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree program.

The degree program is designed specifically for applicants to the medical school who have strong pre-medical experience and attributes, and would benefit from additional basic science preparation before beginning their quest to become a doctor.

“The Bridge program is designed to give students the opportunity to focus in on study strategies, time management, and the basic science material in such a way that they’re really prepared to be outstanding students and leaders as they start the medical school curriculum,” said Jean Shelton, WMed’s assistant dean for Admissions and Student Life.

A distinct benefit of the program is the linkage to the medical school’s MD program, as students who successfully complete the master’s curriculum are conditionally accepted to the MD program for the following academic year. Each student also receives a full-tuition scholarship from the medical school to cover the cost of the master’s program. 

“What has impressed me is how they have become a team, a really congealed cohort of students who are cheering each other on and in many ways working as a group to ensure the success of all of them,” said Timothy Garrow, PhD, program director for the Master of Science in Biomedical Science degree program. “It’s been insanely impressive. In prior years, with only two students, they kind of had to integrate into the background and try to assimilate into the medical school population but this year because we have eight, they kind of formed their own little team. That’s been a real positive.”

Dr. Garrow said students who are successful in the master’s degree program have a huge chance to be successful in navigating the rigors of medical school and becoming caring and compassionate physicians.

“To be able to get all the information this year, to be able to adapt my learning strategies and stuff like that as far as each particular course, and to be able to apply those during M1 year where we’re basically seeing the same information for the first six months, that’s huge,” said Joseph Willner, who graduated along with his classmates during commencement on Saturday, May 11, 2019, at the Wings Event Center. “It’s an awesome way to put it together.”

Willner earned his bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from Western Michigan University. He said pursing his master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at WMed has helped him adapt his notetaking strategy and has helped him figure out how to manage his life outside of school while adjusting to the curriculum. He said he also has the benefit of not being a new student in a new city while starting medical school. 

“Now I can go (into medical school) knowing this is what I’m going to do and this is what I need to accomplish,” Willner said. “There’s no guesswork.”

Willner said the group of eight students in this year’s Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree program depended on each other and used each other as a resource when needed.

“We were, and still are, a cohesive unit,” Willner said. “We have talked about it before where going into the next year together is something that could only benefit us. I think, unanimously, looking back a few months ago when we all made the decision to come here, I don’t think there’s a single individual who would have changed their mind.”

Willner’s classmate, Samantha Woolery, worked as a registered nurse for about eight years but was interested in moving into a different role in health care. She took a “leap of faith” and applied to WMed and several other medical schools. She landed at WMed, attracted to the institution because she said she felt that WMed leaders were interested in getting to know her as a person. 

“Nobody else does that, not that I’ve found anyway,” Woolery said. “I was really attracted to that. I came in for an interview and I fell in love with the institution.”

Woolery said she accepted a position in the master’s degree program despite being accepted into another medical school in the Indianapolis area, where she was working as a nurse. Woolery said the environment at WMed -- the friendly faculty and staff and available support – was a big part of her decision. 

Woolery said the past year in the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree program taught her how to prioritize, how to study and how to focus on school despite other distractions.

“I’m glad I took this extra year because I feel like now I’m completely ready for all the challenges that would come with medical school,” Woolery said. 

Woolery said she hopes her time in the master’s program, along with her experience as a registered nurse, working with patients and their families, will help her be successful as she beigns her journey to become a doctor. 

“Everybody is welcoming, everybody is so nice, everybody wants to see you succeed,” Woolery said. “The professors are phenomenal. They never want to turn you out. They’re not here for their research grant. They’re here so they can teach you.”

Vera Obinwanne said the eight students in this year’s master’s degree program balanced each other out with their diverse backgrounds.

“The strong support from everybody and how each person’s strengths built each other’s weaknesses gives you a certain amount of confidence that if I have this kind of support throughout the medical school process, I can be successful,” Obinwanne said.

Obinwanne said she benefited from supportive professors at WMed along with second-year medical students who helped tutor the master’s students, and responsive program leaders who took students’ feedback and made adjustments based on it. 

Obinwanne, who has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a master’s degree in Business Management, said she wants to blend her medical knowledge with her business background to change health outcomes in Nigeria, where she was born. 

Obinwanne said the master’s degree program at WMed helped her brain to think scientifically again, since she hadn’t studied science since graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 2013. She said her study skills and scientific knowledge has improved.

“Essentially my science knowledge stopped in 2013,” Obinwanne said. “Even though I did well and got A’s in undergrad it was five years between undergrad and medical school. The Bridge program was able to identify I have the potential to do well in medical school but I have the transition after having stepped away.”

Alejandro Chavez, a California native, said he went straight to work for three years upon graduating from high school to help his parents through the recession. Later, he earned his bachelor’s degree and worked for two years as a research associate at a cancer center in California.

“I always had that plan to apply for medical school,” Chavez said. “It was a matter of timing and finances.”

Chavez said when the time came to finally apply to medical school, he cast a broad net. Still, he said WMed made the greatest impression upon him. The school’s state-of-the-art technology, combined with a decompressed schedule and the pioneering spirit of the curriculum, set the medical school apart from other institutions.

“I really like the way they took leadership of their curriculum and didn’t necessarily implement somebody else’s,” Chavez said.

Chavez said the master’s degree program gave him a head start by integrating him into the medical school curriculum. He said the program has helped him build the stamina necessary for medical school and made him familiar with the faculty and who he could talk to if needed.

“This program gave me the familiarity with basically half of next year’s curriculum,” Chavez said. “It introduced me to resources I didn’t know of before. I optimized my studying and my study aid resources. I feel it prepared me very well for next year.”