Breaking Barriers UA Little Rock prepares future doctors for medical school success
September 18-24, 2023
By Angelita Faller
In the pursuit of shaping the next generation of medical professionals, UA Little Rock has emerged as a true trailblazer, achieving remarkable success in preparing students for their journey to medical school.
Getting into medical school can be difficult. For the 2022-23 school year, the overall medical school acceptance rate was just 43 percent. With an unwavering commitment to academic excellence and an unparalleled support system, 11 of the 12 UA Little Rock graduates who applied to medical school were accepted for the 2023-24 school year, boasting an impressive medical school acceptance rate of 92 percent.
“While getting accepted into medical school is extremely difficult and challenging, we are lucky to have so many good students who are intelligent, motivated, kind, and hardworking,” said Dr. Anindya Ghosh, associate dean of the Donaghey College of STEM, professor of chemistry, and chair of the Pre-Medicine Committee at UA Little Rock. “Our faculty across different colleges and departments play a crucial role to prepare these students for their future endeavors. Without their involvement, this achievement would have been difficult.”
UA Little Rock graduates who have started medical school during the fall semester include Taylor Arnold, Ruby Viera Corral, Diana Matei, Naya Taylor, Nabeel Alwan, Hannah Khrebiel, Grace Guzman, Jesse Walley, Brad Fugere, Tripti Shukla, and Yanping “Izak” Harville, who was admitted to the competitive MD/Ph.D. program.
Taylor Arnold, a biology major and chemistry minor, is attending UAMS with the goal of becoming a surgeon. She says she owes her success to wonderful professors and participating in inspiring and educational campus activities like the Learning Assistant program, where she worked with faculty to support active learning development and implementation in undergraduate chemistry classes.
“UA Little Rock helped shape who I am today. If it wasn’t for the Learning Assistant program, the garden, and many wonderful professors, I wouldn’t have found the confidence or resources to reach my aspiration of becoming a physician,” Arnold said. “The biggest force that made me successful was the people and activities that I had the opportunity to surround myself with. UA Little Rock is very special in that it is a nontraditional college, so you get to make connections you wouldn’t normally get a chance to create. My experiences are what have led me to where I am.”
Most of UA Little Rock’s future doctors end up majoring in biology and/or chemistry (though any major can go if they do well on the medical college admission test) and head to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, the only health sciences university in the state of Arkansas as well as the state’s largest public employer.
“The UAMS College of Medicine was founded in 1879 and today, is the only academic medical center and MD-granting school in Arkansas,” said Dr. Jeanne McLachlin, director of admissions and recruitment for the UAMS College of Medicine. “The College of Medicine has a campus in Little Rock for 155 students and the UAMS NW campus in Fayetteville for 20 incoming students. Future medical students, if accepted, can apply to either a traditional four-year program or the three-year MD program designed for students who wish to do primary care, especially in rural, underserved areas of Arkansas. UAMS has an active relationship with the undergraduate premedical students attending UA Little Rock. Most will major in an area of natural science, typically biology or chemistry. However, UAMS welcomes applicants from all majors. The students entering the College of Medicine from UA Little Rock are very successful and come to UAMS with a strong foundation in science.”
“We have a very good relationship with UAMS,” Ghosh added. “Many of our students have a preference for admission to UAMS since it’s such a great medical school.”
UA Little Rock has paved the way for aspiring doctors, boasting an impressive track record of producing accomplished medical school applicants. UA Little Rock employees help with the process by writing letters of recommendation, preparing committee letters, and participating in mock interviews with medical school applicants.
“After the combination of the sciences and engineering, we made significant changes to better serve pre-health students at UA Little Rock,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the Donaghey College of STEM at UA Little Rock. “These improvements have enabled students to have better applications and be better prepared for medical school. Thanks to Dr. Ghosh, Dr. Flowers, and the entire team for these great results.”
Nabeel Alwan, a double graduate in chemistry and biology who is attending UAMS this fall, said that the advice and mentorship of UA Little Rock faculty members have been integral to his success.
“My endeavors at UA Little Rock have helped me realize my capabilities and have gotten me a step closer to reaching my full potential,” Alwan said. “The support of the donors, contributors, and mentors was the main reason I was able to graduate with high academic standards and great accomplishments. I think one of the most important things that will determine a student’s future is their relationship with their teachers. I think it is important to understand the dynamics that students experience in the classroom and to improve the classroom’s atmosphere. A professor will state the facts in a subject, a teacher will help you understand and build upon that knowledge so that you may be able to achieve what was never taught.”
Dr. Erin Flowers, director of student services for the Donaghey College of STEM, said that UA Little Rock students are often prepared for medical school through a variety of unique research, work, and volunteer experiences during their undergraduate careers.
“I think our students are successful because so many of them already have a wealth of hands-on experience through research, volunteering, and work experience,” Flowers said. “When they are asked why they want to be a physician, they can draw from their education and all their experiences to provide the answer. They really demonstrate their enthusiasm and interest in the field through that extra work they have done outside of the classroom.”
Ruby Viera Corral, a double major in chemistry and Spanish, is attending the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Long School of Medicine. She plans to become a pediatrician or emergency medicine physician while also working to address health disparities in the community.
“There is so much that I can say about the endless opportunities that the Chemistry department, Spanish department, LSAMP (Arkansas Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) program, LA (Learning Assistant) program, Nanotechnology Center, and others led me to and helped me to excel in,” Corral said. “However, what most prepared me to reach my goals were the personal relationships that I had with my mentors and the incredibly valuable advice, grace, and character growth they offered me. My advice to students is to get a good community of people around you who want to be successful – working through all the stress and challenges is so much better with a group of friends!”
Naya Taylor, a 2021 graduate attending UAMS this fall, wants to become an obstetrician/gynecologist to help improve maternal outcomes in the state of Arkansas.
“There were several opportunities that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Department of Chemistry provided that helped me tremendously in meeting my goals,” Taylor said. “I took full advantage of the free tutoring and research opportunities that are unique to the campus. Joining interest groups such as the Pre-Health Club also surrounded me with peers with similar goals which was integral in forming study groups that helped me succeed.
I believe my success is deeply rooted in my support system and the friends that I made at the UA Little Rock campus. UA Little Rock and the CLC (Chancellor’s Leadership Corps) program opened many pathways in terms of volunteerism and connections. The peer support and mentorship I found during my undergraduate years were invaluable during the application cycle.”
1. Tripti Shukla, a first-year medical student, studies anatomy at UAMS. Shukla graduated from UA Little Rock in 2022 with majors in biology and chemistry and was the winner of the Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award, UA Little Rock’s top award for a graduating student. Photos by Ben Krain
2. Medical students Nabeel Alwan and Taylor Arnold work in a lab at UAMS. Photos by Ben Krain
3. Successful UA Little Rock graduates of the past two years are now pursuing their future careers as doctors as medical students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The students include: Front row (L to R) Naya Taylor, Taylor Arnold, and Diana Matei. Back row (L to R) Nabeel Alwan, Brad Fugere, Hannah Krehbiel, and Tripti Shukla. Photos by Ben Krain