Two medical students in downtown Pa. take faster, cheaper roads to help their rural communities

Seth Martin is unusual among students at Penn State College of Medicine: He’s Mennonite. And he’s in a small group that’s on track to complete medical school in three years instead of the usual four.

“The short answer is yes, it’s difficult,” said the 25-year-old Lancaster County resident. “I’m not sure if it’s more difficult than I expected because I expected the medical education in general to be very difficult. … We definitely have a little less free time.”

The Dauphin County-based Penn State College of Medicine is also unusual, one of 30 of approximately 155 medical schools in the United States that offer the “accelerated path.”

It is intended to help doctors more quickly address an expected shortage. In addition, students can reduce the cost of medical education by tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, it is seen as a way to enable people from different backgrounds to become doctors.

Shannon Brumbaugh grew up in a small town in Huntingdon County, about 90 miles northwest of Harrisburg. Her late father ran a logging business with her mother’s help. She is the first in her family to go to university.

“It was definitely not a road the family knew in terms of going to college and medical school. And certainly not something a lot of the high school students I went to did,” she said.

Penn State’s program began in 2014 with a few specialties, including family medicine. It now offers a dozen, including internal medicine, psychiatry, orthopedics, and neurosurgery.

The three-year programs are highly selective, typically accepting only one or two students per year for each specialty.

You might think that cramming four years of medical school into three would require exceptionally bright and capable students.

That’s partially true, according to Dr. Shou Ling Leong, the associate vice president of education at Penn State College of Medicine

But one key to the accelerated path, she said, is that students know their future specialty when they enter medical school. Normally, medical students spend most of their fourth year being exposed to different specialties and making their decisions.

When considering applications for the three-year track, administrators look for activities and life experiences that support student choice, Leong said.

Penn State College of Medicine student Shannon Brumbaugh. Shannon comes from a small town in rural Pennsylvania and plans to return there to practice. November 17, 2021 Sean Simmers |

Brumbaugh decided she wanted to become a doctor during her sophomore year of high school.

She began shadowing doctors and continued on at Juniata College.

She found herself becoming more and more interested in patients she met and curious about how they were doing over time. She saw an opportunity to make meaningful, long-lasting connections with people.

“The experiences with GPs really showed me that there was a way to have all those things that I really enjoyed. Family medicine was the perfect specialty to put all the things I loved in one,” said Brumbaugh, 25.

Accelerated students start working with real patients from scratch, spending half a day a week in patient care clinics. Their classmates don’t work with patients until year three.

On the one hand, she lost half a day of college, Brumbaugh said, now in her third year.

But when she saw what she learned, it was immediately applied to real patients “eventually it became a good study mechanism in a way,” she said.

Another major difference is that accelerated students take classes in the summer after their first year, while other students are free to take a break.

Leong said the fact that accelerated students have chosen their specialty allows them to take a program that is more focused on what they need to know. She said studies have found no difference in knowledge level and preparation between accelerated and traditional students. In addition, Leong, who is involved in such research, said accelerated students show no more stress-related problems than traditional students.

The three-year program existed in the 1970s when the US government, fearing a shortage of doctors, funded three-year programs. Shortage concerns eventually abated, funding stopped and accelerated programs closed.

But more recent forecasts of physician shortages, driven by forces, including older baby boomers, are some of the reasons Penn State College of Medicine set up three-year trajectories in 2014.

Another call for accelerated students is financial. They cut a year of tuition, which is about $50,000 at Penn State College of Medicine, and about $20,000 in expenses. Combined with earning an extra year, the accelerated route can yield a net benefit of $270,000 or more, depending on the specialty, Leong said.

A majority of people in accelerated programs go into family medicine and many choose to work in medically deprived areas.

Both Martin and Brumbaugh say the financial savings are important to them. Both are also aware of the shortage of physicians in their home communities and appreciate the opportunity to contribute their skills a year early.

“A big part of my motivation was to be able to offer something to my Mennonite community,” Martin said. “It was a bit of a no-brainer to come to a local program that would save a year from my already long education.”

As with students on the traditional path, the accelerated students must do residencies after finishing medical school. Lengths vary based on specialty. For example, GPs do three-year residencies. Orthopedic surgeons do a five-year residency and neurosurgeons do a seven-year residency, meaning they receive ten years of training outside of college. Penn State guarantees its expedited residencies for students within Penn State Health, saving them time and application costs.

with students

Penn State College of Medicine student Seth Martin. Seth is a Mennonite from Lancaster County and went there as a family doctor. November 17, 2021 Sean Simmers |

Martin grew up in a family of three children near Strasburg, Pennsylvania. His father worked as a carpenter, then a teacher at a Mennonite school, and now he works for a Mennonite-owned construction company. His mother periodically worked part-time in a dairy.

As a child he was an avid reader and interested in plants and animals. While he was in Faith Mennonite High School, he decided that a career in medicine would be “a great way to earn a living, serve my community, and nurture my interest in science. It kind of met those three.” big goals I had.”

He said his teachers at Mennonite schools were generally not college educated. However, two of his high school teachers had gone to college. They made sure he had the scientific background necessary to do well at Millersville University and get admitted to medical school.

“It was a privilege for me to have science teachers who had university degrees,” he said.

Martin said the Mennonite and Amish communities in Lancaster County need doctors. Plus, they need doctors they can trust.

As a general practitioner in those communities, he expects to care for babies through the elderly. He said baby delivery is handled by midwives, but he can participate in complicated births.

“One thing that is very important in the Mennonite community is relationships and also being able to rely on the people you associate with. So being from the community gives me kind of an inside track to build trust and rapport with my Mennonite and Amish patients,” he said.

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