Master’s program will provide a path to medical school

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Bluefield College will recruit students from the Appalachian region

A new master’s degree program in biomedical sciences soon will be offered by Bluefield College, but the courses will be taught at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Blacksburg campus.

The program grew out of a VCOM graduate certificate program designed to help students prepare for medical school and improve their chances for admission. Graduates of the master’s program who meet certain benchmarks are guaranteed a place at one of VCOM’s three campuses.

“We’re very interested in recruiting students from the Appalachian region,” says Emily Lambert, associate professor and chair of the Bluefield College Biology Department. “So many of these students are not going to be in an upper socioeconomic class.”

Students in certificate programs are not eligible for federal aid, Lambert says, a situation that can be a burden for students and their families. Students in the new master’s program will be eligible for federal aid.

“Not only that, when you compare a certificate to a degree, a degree tends to be something that holds a little bit more weight in our culture and society” and with an admissions committee that may be looking at a potential candidate for their program, she says.

The new master’s program continues a trend of expanding and evolving medical education in Virginia. The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine graduated its first class in 2014, the same year Emory & Henry College opened its School of Health Sciences in Marion. Regent University in Virginia Beach plans to open a College of Health Care Sciences and School of Nursing this fall. The Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke also is planning to merge with Radford University.

That activity may be driven by Bureau of Labor Statistics predictions that health care will account for about one-third of all new jobs created in the United States between now and 2026.

The master’s program aims to attract students from Appalachia who plan to practice as health professionals in the region. Appalachia has long faced a health-care shortage. Some students may not be as well prepared academically as they could be, Lambert says, and the new program will help them close that gap.

The first cohort of 120 students is scheduled to begin classes the last week of July.