Health Professions Students & Residents Profiles

PEP for UVM Undergraduate Students

Photo of Colby McGinn practicing suturing during a clinicCurrent Premedical Enhancement Program (PEP) student Colby McGinn of Brattleboro has benefitted from AHEC programs since he was in the tenth grade, and each experience validated for him that he wants to become a physician.

Born and raised in Brattleboro, he is currently a sophomore in the University of Vermont Honors College where he is majoring in math.  He has had exposure to the world of medicine from his parents:  his father is an ophthalmologist and his mother is a practice manager at the hospital in Brattleboro.  “I feel very fortunate that I’ve always known what I wanted to do,” he remarks.  But, “it’s easy to profess an interest in being a doctor; AHEC’s MedQuest and C-SHIP programs affirmed that is what I want to do.”

Colby attended a MedQuest summer camp at the SIT campus in Brattleboro while still a sophomore in high school, during which he job shadowed professionals at four different hospitals, including the Veterans Administration Clinic in Springfield.  The Advanced MedQuest experience at Fletcher Allen Health Care (now the UVM Medical Center) enabled him to shadow specialists in dermatology, surgery, anesthesia, and endocrinology.  Once he graduated from high school and became a college student, he applied to Southern Vermont AHEC’s College Student Internship Program (C-SHIP) for a paid internship. His internship was a collaboration with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH) and the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition in which he developed a questionnaire, distributed it to physicians and pharmacists (and in some cases, interviewed them) to gauge interest in a collaborative meeting to discuss opioid prescribing issues.  He also job shadowed several physicians at BMH.

At the end of his freshman year, Colby applied to the UVM Premedical Enhancement Program (PEP).  He was accepted, and Colby describes the program as being “like MedQuest on steroids.”  He notes, “The opportunities presented by just being in the program are an advantage; I can build connections that I might not otherwise be able to.”  Colby marvels at how interested and excited people are to teach:  “the teachers and mentors I’ve had have been really great,” he says.  This fall, he job shadowed a surgeon in the Operating Room at the UVM Medical Center as well as attended Grand Rounds.

Colby enjoys giving back, too.  He has been a volunteer at both BMH and currently, in the ICU Family Waiting Area at the UVM Medical Center.  Last summer, he talked to MedQuest students about the undergraduate college experience.

“I want to thank everyone at AHEC for allowing me to do everything I’ve been able to do:  it honestly couldn’t have been better!”

Committed to Medicine through PEP

Photo of Justin Van Backer during a suturing clinicJustin Van Backer thought he would like to be a veterinarian when he was growing up in Wilmington, Vermont, so he job shadowed one and decided that was definitely not his career path. Instead, he became an emergency services worker in high school and has continued to work as an EMT in college and medical school. In selecting which college to attend, “PEP was a selling point in coming to the University of Vermont,” he asserts. “PEP” is the UVM Premedical Enhancement Program that allows undergraduates to explore their interest in medicine for three years through job shadowing and working with physician mentors, attending Grand Rounds, and sometimes medical school class with a PEP medical student mentor. The program is a collaboration between the UVM Office of Primary Care and AHEC, the Honors College, and the Larner College of Medicine. Primary care is focused on in the pipeline into medical school but not in a specific specialty.

Justin took full advantage of the three-year PEP experience, while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience.  During his first week of shadowing trauma surgeon Bruce Crookes, MD, he watched a chest tube be placed in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU).  He fell in love with the OR, even after rotations in other areas of medicine. He also learned about the humanistic side of medicine from Dr. Crookes, who allowed Justin to shadow him nearly every week for two years. “I got to see a different side shadowing Dr. Crookes for two years; he became a mentor and secured my interest in surgery.” About the overall program, he says, “PEP absolutely was influential in my decision to go into medicine.” Now entering his fourth and final year at the Larner College of Medicine, he spent a week working as an assistant director for a Southern Vermont MedQuest camp, about which he says: “I liked the fact that MedQuest wasn’t just about exposure to medicine as a physician but all kinds of careers like nursing and respiratory therapy.” Last year, he became a PEP mentor himself, helping a new PEP student “as a way of starting to give back,” he says. “I really connected with my PEP mentee, and brought him to class and labs.”

Now writing his personal statement to apply for residency after he graduates in May, Justin says it is based on his PEP experience that introduced him to his mentor Dr. Crookes. Interested in general surgery, he says “I’d love to come back to Vermont to practice.”


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