Wayne State offers chance at free medical education

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne State University has announced a new program designed to create a pipeline to help poor but high-achieving high school students enter the medical profession.

Wayne Med-Direct will enroll 10 students a year who are interested in studying health disparities, starting in summer 2016. Students in the program will get free tuition and room-and-board (in university housing) for their undergraduate studies at Wayne State, guaranteed admission to its School of Medicine, and four years of medical school tuition.

Students will leave Wayne State with either an M.D. or a combined M.D./Ph.D, the university said in a release.

Ambika Mathur, dean of Wayne State’s Graduate School, described the school’s niche as a “hub” for training students from diverse and/or economically challenged backgrounds. The medical school used to be known for that but had “lost sight” of that part of its mission in recent years, Mathur said.

The new initiative is not a response to a recent accreditation warning to WSU from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, WSU spokesman Mike Brinich said.

The committee put the medical school on accreditation probation in June, citing diversity as one of 12 areas that needed to be improved. LCME upgraded Wayne State’s status last week from probation to warning.

“The program was conceived off of the president’s goals to create a national hub for health disparities,” Brinich said. “This is creating a pipeline of students who are interested in researching that, as well as being clinical practioners.”

Wayne Med-Direct will require a commitment of “millions” of dollars per year, Mathur said, which will be taken from existing scholarship funds. As time goes on, Wayne State will pursue national grants and will hit up alumni of the medical school for donations.

Mathur described Wayne Med-Direct as similar to its BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity) program, which started last summer with a similar intent.

Wayne State got the funds for the National Institutes of Health-funded BUILD program, $21.8 million over 5 years, in partnership with the University of Detroit-Mercy, Marygrove College and the Wayne County Community College District. Last year, the program took in 17 students with “absolutely stellar records,” Mathur said. The average ACT score was a 27, the average GPA was a 3.9.

In its first year, Wayne’s BUILD program was locally focused; it will be national going forward. Wayne Med-Direct will be national in its entirety. There is no sunset date for the program.

The school describes the program as the only one of its kind in Michigan. Other medical schools across the country offer full-tuition scholarships, including the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, which covers tuition and fees for all of its students.

Students who are admitted to Wayne Med-Direct will have to forgo their summer vacation to arrive early on campus, where they will take science and writing classes.

Enrollees will be exposed to seminars, have the chance to do research, and receive clinical training at the medical school as undergrads. The interview process will be rigorous. Medical faculty and students will be involved to assess each student’s qualifications and commitment to studying health disparities.

There will be “checkpoints” throughout a student’s time in Wayne Med-Direct to make sure they are on track, said Brinich. In the event a student takes the scholarship and then decides, say, to go to Harvard Medical School instead, they’ll be liable for repaying the scholarship that paid for their undergrad work, Mathur said.

“This is about building a pipeline at Wayne State,” Mathur said.

While Wayne State says it will use a holistic admission process, the bar to even be considered for Wayne Med-Direct is high. A minimum 3.5 GPA is required, along with a 1340 SAT or a 30 ACT score. Only high school seniors who are American citizens or permanent residents can apply. Preference will be given to poor students who look to study health disparities.

Applications are due Jan. 15, 2016. Students and parents who want to learn more should visit honors.wayne.edu.