Swarthmore College is known for having an overall medical school acceptance rate well above the national average of 41 percent — 48 percent higher, according to the Health Science Office — yet the school is now offering an alternative route to those who wish to avoid the stress of applying to multiple schools. On Nov. 2, the Health Sciences Advisor Gigi Simeone announced a new early-acceptance program in association with Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College.
This program was made as part of the university’s Medicine Plus initiative, which aims to customize medical education, and as a continuation of Swarthmore’s mission for social responsibility. Students who are accepted into this program and keep in alignment with all of the requirements and expectations are guaranteed admission into the university’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC). Sidney Kimmel Medical College is ranked by US News and World Report as 56th best medical school in research and 46th in primary care. Applications for sophomore students will be due this March.
According to Simeone, the SKMC program had been in the process of development for over two years, with much of the initiative coming from Dr. Michael Stillman, an assistant dean of undergraduate medical education and academic affairs at Thomas Jefferson University.
Simeone, along with Professors Tom Stephenson, Ben Berger, and Christy Schuetze, spearheaded the planning of many details of the program on the Swarthmore side, aiming to ensure a future generation consisting of people in the medical field who are strongly oriented towards thinking of health in populations.
“Students who have a demonstrated interest and commitment in this area [of public health], and who have taken coursework to support this, will be eligible to apply,” said Simeone on the program’s expressed preference for public health. “The program was conceived as a way to educate physicians with a strong interest in the larger societal issues related to the practice of medicine.”
Students who are accepted can expect benefits, the first being that the program itself is completely free. These SKMC scholars, according to the college’s website, will be able to work alongside faculty from the university in local and global health issues. They will also work in a field of health of interest in the summer between their junior and senior years under a mentor, which will last eight weeks. At SKMC, students are expected to select the Jeff MD Population Health Scholarly Inquiry, a specific track at the university for medical students inclined towards public health, in line with their goals. Upon enrollment, students will be mentored in a capstone project concerning health policy and population.
In terms of course requirements, the SKMC program is slightly less stringent in comparison to the normal prerequisites for pre-med students, consisting of 14 courses that pre-med students can expect to take. By the time of application, according to an information sheet concerning the program, students must have completed or have in progress four out of the following in order to be considered eligible: Biology 001 and 002; Chemistry 010 and 022; and Statistics 011. Along with those five classes, potential SKMC students are to have taken two courses at Swarthmore focusing on “Health & Sciences,” “Public Health,” or “Politics & Public Policy,” encompassing a diverse range of courses such as “Modern Addiction: Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century,” “Disease, Culture, & Society in the Modern World,” and “Against the Norm: Im/perfect Bodies and Disabilities Studies.”
Besides the course requirements, students are expected to maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average. They must also have an SAT score equal to or above 1200, or an ACT score equal to or above 26, and must not have withdrawn from or repeated any course, with a few exceptions.
The scholars will be limited to only five per year, which means that acceptance will likely be competitive. The Swarthmore website states that applicants “will be evaluated based on academic performance, career goals, citizenship beyond the classroom, and communications skills.” Motivated and eligible students should still be encouraged to apply, as the possible reward of guaranteed matriculation certainly outweighs the worst-case scenario of having to apply to multiple medical schools as per usual.
For the students who are unsure about their post-graduation plans, scholars are not bound to SKMC. The university “hopes that accepted scholars will ultimately matriculate,” as stated by the program information sheet.
Some Swarthmore students, such as Maya Smith ’20, wish to keep their options open, instead of limiting themselves to a single area on the medical field.
“While a lot of my fellow pre-med students are interested in these programs, I don’t have any interest in them for two main reasons,” Smith said. “First, I want to take a gap year or two. I know too many students who have burned out in med school. I’m hoping to take a break for at least a year. Second, there’s still the chance I’ll want to pursue other options, like research. While there’s a 90 percent chance I go to med school, I don’t want to close off other options. Even if I don’t have to commit to the school, I know if I’m accepted to a med school, it almost guarantees that I’ll choose medicine.”
But for those who are committed to the field of public health, the SKMC program appears to offer some of the opportunities that other pre-med students seek: summer research projects, fieldwork, and so on. Because the program is in the early stages of implementation, the coordinators expect to make some changes in the coming years when it acquires more experience.