Montana medical students place high in field

msu student Vielleux

Great Falls native and Montana State University student MaryGlen Vielleux will graduate from MSU in May with dual degrees in cell biology and neuroscience and Hispanic studies. This fall, she’ll begin her medical education in Bozeman through the WWAMI program. Vielleux plans to return to Montana to practice after completing her medical education. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.



By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

When Great Falls native MaryGlen Vielleux enrolled at Montana State University in 2011, she came with an interest in biology but an uncertainty about what career path to pursue.

After visiting the university’s Health Professions Advising office later that year, she left with the confidence that medical school was a conceivable option, with the conviction that it was what she desired and with a plan for how to achieve her goal.

Now, Vielleux is seeing the results of her hard work: in May, she’ll graduate from MSU with dual degrees in cell biology and neuroscience and Hispanic studies, both from the College of Letters and Science. This fall, she’ll begin her medical education in Bozeman through the WWAMI program – a highly competitive, cooperative program of the University of Washington School of Medicine and the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

“WWAMI was my number one choice,” said Vielleux, who applied to 14 medical schools and was invited to interview at five before being accepted to WWAMI (she subsequently canceled her other interviews). “I’m really excited.”

Vielleux’s success represents the successes of many MSU students. In fact, students from MSU continue to have a significantly higher rate of acceptance to health professions schools (such as medical and dental schools) than the national average.

“MSU students continue to shine,” said Sheila Nielsen, director of the Health Professions Advising office. “Not only have the number of applicants to these health professions schools increased during the last several years, but the acceptance rate for MSU students and graduates continues to be 20 percent or more above the national average.”

The total number of MSU students applying to health professions schools has averaged 83 per year over the last five years, according to data compiled by the MSU Health Professions Advising office. Over that five-year period, an average of 55 of those students applied to medical schools (both allopathic and osteopathic) yearly, with a 64 percent acceptance rate. An average of 12 students yearly applied to dental school with a 71 percent acceptance rate; 11 students yearly applied to physician assistant school with a 62 percent acceptance rate; and eight students yearly applied to other health professions programs – including pharmacy, optometry and chiropractic programs – with an 88 percent acceptance rate.

In 2015 – the most recent year data is available – the national acceptance rate to allopathic medical schools was 39 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, while the national acceptance rate to osteopathic medical schools was 35 percent, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. In 2014, the national acceptance rate to dental schools was 50 percent, according to the American Dental Education Association.

“These numbers clearly show that MSU students and graduates are extremely well-positioned to be competitive applicants to health professions programs,” Nielsen said.

Also impressive is that MSU students have received acceptance letters this year to Harvard’s and Stanford’s medical schools, Nielsen added.

Nielsen attributes the MSU students' high success rate to the students’ strong work ethic and to an infrastructure that helps them succeed.

"We let them know where and how high the hurdles are. It is up to the student to navigate them successfully, but it is much easier to do so if they know they are coming," Nielsen said.

Cory Johnson, who graduated from MSU in May 2015 with a degree in cell biology and neuroscience, will begin dental school in August at the University of Utah. He recently learned that he will receive funding from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, to help offset the cost of non-resident tuition for four years. (Students enrolled in a professional program through Professional Student Exchange Program pay reduced tuition thanks to the student's home state, which pays a support fee to the enrolling school to reduce the cost of the student's education.)

Johnson said MSU’s Health Professions Advising office was invaluable to him as he worked to achieve his goal of enrolling in dental school.

“The HPA office basically became my adviser,” said Johnson, a Bozeman High School graduate. Johnson said Nielsen suggested classes for Johnson to take, arranged visits to dental offices in the community and helped him prepare for his admissions test and the application process.

“She was just super helpful,” Johnson said, adding that she was also a great source of support during times of stress and anxiety. For example, when Johnson considered taking a year off before applying to dental school, he talked with Nielsen about the decision. And now, he said he’s glad he made the choice to wait to apply.  

Vielleux agreed the HPA office was an important resource throughout her time at MSU, and she encourages other students considering careers in health professions to take advantage of the office.

“Sheila and Kathy (Weaver, the office’s administrative associate,) will help you immensely,” she said.

As she looks toward graduation in May and the beginning of medical school, Vielleux noted she is excited to study medicine and is drawn to the field for many reasons.

“Being a doctor is a great way of working with people, and my viewpoint on health is that it’s the most basic need that we all have,” she said. “I’m looking forward to helping as many people as I can.”

And, Vielleux stresses that she plans to return to Montana to practice after completing her medical education.

“I’m definitely coming back to Montana and serving here,” she said. “It has always been my home and always will be.”    

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