First-year MTSU students Abdurahman “Abdul” Abdouni of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Alisha Saeed of Chattanooga, Tenn., Ethan Powers, left, of Lexington,Tenn., and Zaynab Syed of Brentwood, Tenn., observe a laboratory exercise during the second week of a Summer Bridge program that’s part of the Medical School Early Acceptance program. Dec. 1 is the deadline for Tennessee students to apply and meet acceptance requirements to start their first year in fall 2023. They are shown outside the Meharry library. (Meharry Medical College file photo by Israel Thomas)

Dec. 1 application deadline looms for next freshman class

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — As a Dec. 1 application deadline looms for the next group of budding medical school students, the first four Middle Tennessee State University undergraduates have successfully advanced in the special partnership with Meharry Medical College School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We have made it to medical school,” an exuberant Maria Hite of La Vergne, Tennessee, said, referencing the continuing journey for her, Claire Ritter of Nashville, Tennessee, Pierce Creighton of Lascassas, Tennessee, and Kirolos Michael of Brentwood, Tennessee. They are five months in after completing their first three years of study in prescribed undergraduate premedical school curriculum and four years of medical school study.

It is all part of the Medical School Early Acceptance Program, or MSEAP, a collaboration between MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences and Meharry. The purpose of the program is to increase the number of primary care physicians serving medically underserved populations as well as alleviating health care disparities in rural Tennessee.

“These students will be part of the solution to an ongoing health dilemma in Tennessee, caring for those whose health care options may be scarce or inadequate,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College.

“The opportunities this MTSU-Meharry partnership create for both this cohort of health care students and eventually for those in remote and underserved parts of the state will benefit Tennesseans who otherwise may not have access to health care,” he added. “We’re delighted with the first cohort of students from MTSU and look forward to this continuing partnership.” 

In addition to Hite, Ritter, Creighton and Michael, there are four students in their third year of the program at MTSU, eight in their second year and four in their first year — a total of 20 altogether. The program was announced in 2018. Hite, Ritter, Creighton and Michael were in the first freshman class.

The deadline — and what you need to know

The program is restricted to incoming freshmen from Tennessee, and MTSU officials urge applicants to apply by Dec. 1 for consideration for the fall 2023 semester. Visit https://www.mtsu.edu/cbas/MSEAP.php to learn more.

College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten said the program “attracts highly talented and compassionate students who want to make a difference for people in the state by making top-notch health care accessible to everybody.

“It’s a great program that will benefit the people of Tennessee, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity for these top students. The program accelerates their pathway to become doctors and also provides a hefty scholarship for all seven years they are in college and medical school. It’s truly a win-win for academically talented students who want to become doctors.”

Regarding the upcoming deadline, Eric Miller, advising manager in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, highly recommends “anyone interested in making it easier for their fellow Tennesseans to receive medical care to apply before Dec. 1.”

Miller added that for anyone taking the ACT in December, those scores “will be considered, too, as long as their MTSU and Meharry applications are received by Dec. 1.” Requirements include a 3.5 or higher GPA and a 28 or higher ACT.

A three-year residency in primary care in a rural or underserved area of Tennessee, along with a two-year post-residency commitment, is also required. Upon matriculation into MSEAP, students receive conditional acceptance to Meharry’s School of Medicine.

The MTSU experience

Hite said finishing her courses at MTSU “felt unreal. In some ways, it is still hard to believe that I am done with my undergraduate studies. I was excited to be finished and move on to medical school.

“However, it was also bittersweet. I loved my time at MTSU. It became my home and comfort zone, which is also why I knew it was time. It was time to once again step out of my comfort zone, build on those experiences and continue to grow. I am looking forward to coming back to MTSU in May to officially walk across the stage and graduate.” 

The first four who advanced

Hite said what they have achieved “is a huge accomplishment, but we still have a long journey ahead: four years of medical school, licensing exams, years of residency, and potentially fellowships. It’s what we signed up for, but that doesn’t make it any less daunting.”

For Hite and the others, the experience “has been both exciting and challenging. We are given a large volume of material to learn in a short amount of time, but that was expected.”

Since leaving MTSU, Hite said “Meharry creates a deep sense of community, and it can be felt from my fellow classmates and professors to all across its campus.”

“The transition to medical school was easier knowing that I already had friends that I could study with and rely on for support,” Hite added. “In addition to taking interesting courses and meeting new people, I have had several opportunities to explore medicine further. Every week, we get to work with standardized patients, actors that allow us to practice clinical history-taking skills and physical exams. My classmates and I also have opportunities to volunteer at Meharry’s Salt Wagon Clinic, which provides free health care for the community and is student-led.”

Hite said she tries to take everything one step at a time. “My three years at MTSU went by so fast, and I have heard that it is the same with medical school,” she said. As a part of the program, “we will help improve access to health care by caring for medically underserved communities. This mission helps keep me focused and motivated, especially on the difficult days. The program has given us so many opportunities. Now it’s up to us to continue to put in the work and become the best physicians we can be.”

Earlier this year, Michael, an immigrant from Egypt, became the first recipient of the Drs. David and Yolando Chatman Scholarship, announced by Murfreesboro Medical Clinic and SurgiCenter, in conjunction with the MMC Foundation. The foundation and MMC Diversity Committed developed a scholarship for local students who are advancing to medical school.

Each new group of students performs a Habitat for Humanity day of service during their two-week summer bridge program — the first week at MTSU and second at Meharry.