WBU students preparing for medical careers

PLAINVIEW - Martin Ortega kept his summer options open for several months, hesitating to make any solid plans. But in mid-April, his plans were made for him when he received word of acceptance into the Joint Admissions Medical Program.

Now he's in Houston, at the Baylor College of Medicine, participating in an intense summer program designed to provide him and the 68 other participants with extra academic and practical preparation toward medical school - even though it is three more years away.

JAMP, as it is called, is a special program created by the Texas Legislature in 2002 to provide support for economically disadvantaged students seeking medical careers. Summer programs are held after each academic year, then students are guaranteed admission into one of Texas' medical schools and substantial scholarships toward the expensive training.

For Ortega, who just completed his freshman year at Wayland Baptist University, the program is literally an affirmation from God. Ortega came to Wayland from his hometown of Midland, where his father, Martin Sr., pastors Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel. A couple from his church encouraged him to visit Wayland and he enjoyed the small classes and Christian atmosphere.

A strong Christian with a heart for missions, Ortega said he initially enrolled with the plan of pursuing a career in physical therapy, mostly because he knew the cost of medical school would be prohibitive. But the dream of being a real M.D. still lingered in his mind.

Dr. Adam Reinhart, assistant professor of biological and earth sciences at Wayland and pre-health coordinator, had set Ortega on a four-year plan toward PT school, mapping out classes and extracurricular opportunities to better prepare him. When he learned Wayland would have a chance to nominate students for JAMP - private schools in Texas only get to nominate on a rotation basis and only 10% of the places are reserved for private school freshmen - he immediately thought of Martin.

"I think this program is tailor-made for people like Martin," Reinhart said. "You have to be Pell Grant eligible, so it's really meant for students who may not be able to pay for medical school even if they got accepted."

Reinhart helped Ortega with the application process, a long online form which required an essay detailing Ortega's career goals and desires for the future. The field was narrowed and students called for interviews, with Ortega's at Texas Tech University. When word came he'd been chosen, he said he was amazed.

"I feel very blessed to be chosen, but I don't feel like it's a coincidence," Ortega said. "I really felt like (Wayland) was where God wanted me to be, and I can't think of anything more affirming than to be accepted into this program."

Ortega said the narrow window of opportunity for the honor makes it even more special. Application for JAMP has to be made during the freshman year, and had he come to WBU a year later or earlier, it would not have been the school's chosen year to nominate. It was, as they say, just meant to be.

"This program gives me a purpose," Ortega said. "I realize that all the honor and glory goes to God for this, and it makes me excited because I can see my purpose laid out before my eyes. I know God wants me to use this experience for his glory."

Ortega is interested in focusing his medical career toward family and community medicine or pediatrics. For now, though, his goals are making it through the intense 8-5 class days and shadowing opportunities this summer, keeping his grade point average high and keeping on track with his academic plans.

And he's not the only Wayland student making his summer count toward a degree. Reinhart said other students are taking advantage of programs that allow them to improve their skills and prepare for careers in the healthcare industry.

Paige Prince, a senior from Georgetown, is spending her summer at the premedical academy at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Galveston. There, she'll be involved in exercises to improve scores of the MCAT admissions exam and will be taking classes as well. She hopes to become a doctor.

"It's not like a summer camp; it's more like boot camp," Reinhart explained. "They go from early in the morning until late at night doing medical-related things, from classes to hands-on experiences."

Senior Cassandra Hill from Smyer is also using her summer wisely, participating in a summer research fellowship at Texas A&M University in College Station. Hill, who wants to earn a PhD in biochemistry research, will be doing extensive research and building her skills in that area.

Reinhart said experiences like this are priceless to students in the long run, when graduate schools and medical school programs begin poring over applications.

"We're really trying to make everything strategic toward applying to medical schools or research programs," he said. "This just helps them more when it comes time to do that."