Just like the rest of activities during this unprecedented time, the Pre-Entry Program went virtual this year. The four-week program, offered each summer to about 30 newly admitted medical school students, presents a robust curriculum aimed at strengthening academic performance and a guided transition into academic medicine.

“Although the program was different this year, the dedicated faculty and excellent tutors provided an innovative program to prepare the students for entering medical school next month,” said Patricia Butler, MD, vice dean for educational programs.

This year’s program, running June 22-July 17, included 31 incoming first-years, 25 McGovern and six Baylor College of Medicine students. The program also included five second-year students who served as tutors: Jonathan Bruhn, Dakota Butler, Anthony Chartier, Ashley Ernst, and Nadia Livingstone.

Instead of the usual in-person lectures, labs, and skills sessions, all training moved to live WebEx events hosted by faculty members. Participating faculty and staff included Dr. Jeffrey Actor, Dr. Jack Byrne, Dr. Nathan Carlin, Dr. Phil Carpenter, Dr. Len Cleary, Dr. Shane Cunha, Dr. Diane Edmondson, Dr. Alex Gorfe, Dr. Claire Hulsebosch, Dr. LaTanya Love, Dr. Chris Mackenzie, Marcy Hamburger, Dr. John Putkey, Dr. Tara Tuchaai, Dr. Marion Zahn, and Dr. Han Zhang.

Some faculty members used the technology to innovative during their lessons.

Carpenter, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, presented all of his sessions as flipped classrooms, using the poll everywhere audience response system.

“I think that the pre-entry program went relatively smooth given the constraints that were placed on it.” he said. “We were able to generate student interaction and active learning.”

Actor, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, divided the students into small groups during his session utilizing the personal room function in WebEx, and Carlin, the Samuel E. Karff, D.H.L., Chair in the John P. McGovern, M.D., Center for Humanities and Ethics, virtual ethics debate on Canvas using the discussion board for students to post their arguments and counter arguments.

All anatomy labs were presented in in a virtual format with the option for students to attend in person with proper social distancing. Students would then spend independent learning time review the dissection protocol, structure lists, and clinical correlates. Small groups would then convene with their designated tutor for a peer review session. At the end of each session a Q&A time was set up with the faculty member via WebEx.

Jorge Delgado, one of the program’s students, called the new format an “incredible success.”

“I greatly enjoyed the structure of lectures — they were very well organized, interesting, and engaging throughout,” Delgado said.  “Along with the incredible value of receiving select lectures in advance, the program offered the intangible benefit of previewing the medical school experience in a low-stakes environment that allowed me to make the requisite changes to my routine that will make my transition to medical school that much easier.”

Fellow pre-entry student Zoe Alaniz agreed, “The overall takeaway from this program is the opportunity to smoothly transition into life as a medical student through a more intimate experience, and I feel like I gained this and more even through an online environment.”

The lectures, Delgado added, were his favorite part of the program. “Through my shadowing and research experiences during my undergraduate education, I gained a peripheral understanding of many concepts which I am now seeing manifest fully within the lecture material.  This foundational education is exciting as it will allow me to unite my experiences with concrete knowledge and deep mechanistic understanding of the medicine I witnessed in action.”

Having the ability to interact with peers and faculty was also a benefit, Alaniz said. “It was so helpful to get a taste of the information to come and also just have a chance to meet many of the people who I will be working with soon. I feel more at ease to reach out to professors and other students due to the positive reception I received during the PEP.”

The pre-entry program students said they feel doubly prepared for medical school.

“Not only have I seen some of the lectures in advance, but I have practiced with the virtual interface through which I will receive the lectures,” Delgado said.  “Given that medical school will begin entirely virtually, the program provided insight and afford me additional comfort with the virtual platform before the online curriculum beings.  It has also introduced me to medical concepts such that when I see them again, I will have increased mastery of the material and a deeper understanding as I will be seeing it for the second time.”

Alaniz agreed,” Being that online learning has become the current norm due to the coronavirus pandemic, this program gave me ample opportunity to adjust and figure out how to apply my style of learning in this new environment. As well, I believe that this program gave me the amazing chance to work out many kinks and mistakes that I may have experienced in the first few weeks of school!”

The students expressed thanks to those involved with the program.

“I just want to express my gratitude to all the organizers, tutors, and faculty who put so much effort in making the Pre-Entry Program possible during these trying times,” Alaniz said. “Their dedication and hard work radiated every day, and it inspired me to give the same. I am very honored that I have the opportunity to work with them in the years to come and hopefully stay involved with the Pre-Entry Program for future students!”

“I am extremely grateful to have been a part of the program and am thankful to all the professors who adapted to the online platform with admirable ease,” Delgado said.