The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine had a challenge selecting the 42 students who would enter this year — a good kind of challenge for a relatively new school to have. The applicant pool for the Class of 2020, at 4,611, was the largest in the school’s seven-year history.

Dean Cynda Johnson welcomed the group during the kick-off of orientation week.

“Our admissions office really had their work cut out for them,” she said. “Eighty percent of our applicants met the academic bar to be here. Each of you has something special that you can contribute to the Class of 2020. You were selected because we felt you would do well in our unique, patient-centered, problem-based curriculum that utilizes a team approach to learning.”

Associate Dean for Student Affairs Aubrey Knight reassured the nervous group of future doctors, “You have the capabilities and qualifications it takes to succeed in medical school.”

Members of the new class are undergoing an intensive orientation where they are being introduced to everything from the school’s curriculum, learning environment, and academic standards, to policies and procedures, financial aid, and student counseling.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” said Susan Giampalmo. “This will be the first time in four years I’ve cracked a textbook.”

Giampalmo graduated from Washington and Lee in 2012 and spent the past four years working for Teach for America, a national teacher corps focused on raising achievement in low-income public schools. She was attracted to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine after meeting members of the faculty and staff when she came for an interview.

“I deferred my enrollment for a year so that I could fulfill a prior obligation, and everyone was so supportive about me doing this and very accommodating,” she said.

Seventeen members of the new class are Virginia residents; 40 percent are women; and most arrived with considerable research experience under their belts. The school offers a rigorous research-intensive curriculum in which students will spend more than 1,200 hours on individual research projects over the course of four years, culminating in an academic research paper of publishable quality. By graduation, most students have presented their work nationally and even internationally.

One highlight of the week is the introduction to their first problem-based learning case, which is the cornerstone of their curriculum during their first two years.

For many students, this was a significant factor in their decision to come to the school.

“I’m really excited by the small classes, the small-group learning, and the individual attention to students,” said Malek Bouzaher, from Washington, D.C., who earned a master’s  in physiology from Georgetown. “I feeI I can really forge my own path in a supportive environment.”

Three of the new students didn’t travel far, as they graduated from Virginia Tech. Two students are from Roanoke. Other schools represented included the University of Virginia, which led the pack with seven students; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with four; the University of California, Berkeley, with three; and the College of William and Mary and Johns Hopkins, each with two students. In all, 27 schools coast-to- coast were represented.

 A total of 94 colleges and universities have been represented by the school’s seven admitting classes. Four new schools joined the list this year: Clemson; Southwest Oklahoma State; the University of California, Irvine; and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine opened its doors to its first class in August 2010 and has since graduated three classes, each with a 100 percent residency match rate. The school is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Share this story