It was a grueling 15 weeks for the prospective medical school applicants who recently graduated from the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine’s first community MCAT prep course. Developed by Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Dr. Samuel Kadavakollu, Ph.D., the class met two evenings a week and some Saturdays to help students interested in applying to medical school improve their scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination covering everything from math and physics to biochemistry and organic chemistry. The demanding eight-hour exam is required by almost all U.S. medical schools and scores play a primary role in admissions selections.
Growing up in rural India, Dr. Kadavakollu was raised to believe that money should never be a barrier to education. While earning his doctorate in medicinal chemistry at NMSU, he found his passion for teaching and helping students prepare for exams. He ran successful MCAT and ACT prep courses in Silver City for several years before taking a position at the new medical school. He immediately began working extra hours to launch the MCAT course in Las Cruces as a way to give back to the community he and his family now consider home.
“From the beginning, Dr. George Mychaskiw, the BCOM dean, has been very supportive of all my ideas,” Kadavakollu said. “He’s been very helpful in providing all the support and resources I need.”
MCAT prep courses can cost thousands of dollars and Kadavakollu said they are typically taught by other students who earned a high score on the exam previously. The BCOM course was not only offered at no cost, it was taught entirely by university-level faculty using only material approved by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the organization that administers the MCAT. Participants also got to interact with current medical students and participate in mock admissions interviews.
“When I first pitched the idea, I was just hoping we’d get 30 students, enough to run the class,” Kadavakollu said. “But we ended up with 120 applicants and we selected 70 to participate. So many people at BCOM pitched in to make it happen from the IT team who helped with IDs and computer access, to the other professors who helped teach the class, to the administrative assistants who spent hours inputting MCAT passages into the computer for the students to practice.”
Thirty of the students selected were from Las Cruces. Another 20 came from El Paso, while another 20 travelled from Raton, Vado, Mesquite, Hatch, Anthony, and other small communities in the region. A total of 51 completed the in-depth course and graduated.
At the graduation ceremony, the students praised Kadavakollu’s teaching style, saying he and the other instructors improved their confidence and made the overwhelming amount of study material managble.
UTEP student Sonia Ramos said before taking the course she’d been putting off signing up and paying for the MCAT because she wasn’t confident she’d get a good score. “This course has been such a blessing for me. I’ve already established a date to take the exam at the end of June and I’m hoping to enter BCOM through the BEAR Pathway program in 2018,” she said.
“The MCAT is very scary and most students will tell you they never feel ready,” added Idaly Olivas another participant in the prep course. “After this class, I’m a different person from where I started. Plus, I was introduced to the osteopathic branch of medicine. There are no words for me to describe how grateful I am. I think I’m finally getting closer to my dreams.”
To show their gratitude the students raised $500, which they donated towards a BCOM student’s education in Dr. Kadavakollu’s name.
BCOM will hold the next MCAT prep course in spring 2018. Applications will be accepted beginning in November 2017. Students can visit bcomnm.org/academics/bcom-mcat-prep-course for up to date information.