Reflections on the Penn State-Jefferson Program

I was a member of the third class of the Penn State University-Jefferson University 5-year accelerated BS-MD program and graduated in 1970. I feel very fortunate to have participated in this program. Missing 3 years of formal schooling and the resulting financial savings were extremely worthwhile. There were no special activities at Penn State for participants of the program, though we did get first choice of classes because we needed to fit in all of our science classes. I found the coursework and instruction to be of a high quality. Socially, most of my friends were regular Penn State students. This was different at Jefferson where the majority of my close friends were from the accelerated program.

I applied to this program because I knew I wanted to become a physician and that I had no difficulty achieving high grades academically. In my first year at Penn State, I took calculus 3, biology 3, physics 3, quantitative chemistry, organic chemistry, and genetics. I also had an opportunity to take some liberal arts classes, including English literature, philosophy, psychology, music history, rhetoric, etc. I had no difficulty with the basic science courses at Jefferson. We were all well prepared to study and learn the material. When I was in my internship and residency, no one was aware that I had only 1 year of college and graduated medical school when I was 22.

The experience of being successful in medical school at a young age gave me confidence to seek out and succeed in mid-career opportunities at a young age. I became a medical director of a hospital department at the age of 28 and served in high positions in state and national medical organizations in my 30s.

I personally did not have any problem finishing medical school and college in 5 years, but many people that I have spoken to feel that students nowadays would have difficulty achieving this. Therefore, I feel it should not be difficult for high-achieving students to be able to complete college and medical school in 6 years. Dr. Gonnella, first author of a recent Academic Medicine article about the Penn State-Jefferson accelerated program, told me the original criteria for acceptance to the program was being in the top 10% of the high school class and having high SAT scores. I never had an interview or needed to write an essay. I did have a cursory interview when I was at Penn State by a Jefferson physician.

In Europe and Japan, students graduate medical school in 6 years. I feel that there should be many more 6-year programs in the United States. In fact, it is not uncommon for students to take 1 or more years after college to work in a medical-related field and study for the MCAT to improve their chances of acceptance to medical school. Dr. Gonnella and colleagues’ study demonstrated that using limited information from high school, students accepted to the accelerated program did just as well the other medical students.

By: Lawrence S. Miller, BS, MD

L.S. Miller is clinical professor of medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, California.

Further reading

  1. Gonnella JS, Callahan CA, Erdmann JB, et al. Preparing for the MD: How long, at what cost, and with what outcomes? [published online ahead of print March 10, 2020] Acad Med. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003298