One by one, each student was introduced. They stepped to the front of Connor Ballroom to formally sign their name into a register and donned a green lab coat – a garment mean to symbolize the start of a new journey.

The ceremony held the morning of Aug. 19, 2017, introduced the inaugural cohort of the Yours to Lose – Advanced Medical School Acceptance Program. It marked the start of an accelerated, three-year journey toward a bachelor’s degree in biology, along with early acceptance to Kansas City University’s new Joplin campus.

The two schools had officially partnered for the one-of-akind program, which was designed to pave the way for a seamless transition to medical school for a select group of students. Successful completion would mean early acceptance to KCU without requiring them to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Now, three years after that first cohort began their studies, they have completed their journey at Missouri Southern and have donned their white coats for classes at KCU.

We recently spoke to several members of the first graduating cohort and their adviser about Yours to Lose, their experience in the program and what’s ahead.

DR. DONNA JOHNSON, YTL ADVISER: I wasn’t involved in the development of the program, but I thought it was a wonderful opportunity. Direct medical programs are pretty rare. Area students can come here to do their undergraduate work, then go to medical school and hopefully practice here and meet the need of the physician shortage we have.

And even if the students aren’t from this area, by the time they live here for seven years perhaps they’ll want to settle down in this area.

Elijah Elliot, from Oswego, Kan., visited Missouri Southern the summer before starting his senior year of high school. It was during that visit that he first heard about Yours to Lose.

ELLIOT: As I learned more about it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was on pace to graduate in three years anyway, and not having to take the MCAT was a huge deciding factor.

Butool Mustafa, from Frisco, Texas, learned about Yours to Lose while researching fast-track medical school programs online.

MUSTAFA: It was a really crazy, long road. My parents are immigrants and I’m their oldest child, so applying for college was a whole new ballgame. While I was looking at different programs, an ad for Missouri Southern popped up. I initially applied and filled out a separate application for the program. In late January, I received a request to visit campus and interview. I went through the interview process and toured the campus … a month or two later, I received the letter saying I’d gotten in.

Even before classes began, the YTL students found that Missouri Southern had created an environment designed for them to bond before embarking on a rigorous course of study.

JOHNSON: There was a group chat created the summer before they began. They came in knowing each other and formed strong friendships, like a group of siblings.

Sarah Forman, a YTL student from Carthage, agrees.

FORMAN: They became the people I was closest with throughout college. I could probably call on them for anything I needed. We would do different activities, volunteer and join clubs. Me and two others went through (the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority) together.

As classes began, the students found an intensive, science-heavy course of study. Even some of the general education courses had been adapted to suit their needs as future physicians.

JOHNSON: We have what we refer to as ‘themed courses.’ Oral communication is one … the emphasis is on client communication. How do you speak to someone that doesn’t have your knowledge base? How do you deliver bad news?

FORMAN: When we took the oral comm class, we had to give speeches about different diseases. We had to do a lot of research to not only understand (the topic) but to be able to present and teach other people. There was a medical Spanish class where we had to learn phrases you wouldn’t learn in a regular Spanish class.

ELLIOT: Those classes helped us stay focused, gave us more skills and made us more prepared. It’s definitely a huge perk for the program. In art, they stressed looking beyond the painting and to see specific details. It was a way to kind of mold your diagnostic skills. As a physician, you need to look beyond what’s in front of you to see the finer details.

As their three-year journey progressed, the curriculum continued to build upon what they learned, with an emphasis on anatomy and physiology.

FORMAN: I think our second year was probably the most difficult. But after class, several of us would often go to a study room to go over everything together. Sometimes if there’s something you couldn’t understand, other people in the class could describe it better.

MUSTAFA: Looking back, the time really flew by. But I did a lot of stuff that made me feel like I had the full college experience. During the summer of my second year, I had the opportunity to study abroad … I took an anatomy class in Italy.

The cohort began with 26 students; 15 of those graduated as part of the inaugural group.

JOHNSON: We hope we’re selecting those really focused students who will go on to medical school, but they’re only 17 or 18 years old. When they make that decision at such a young age, some of them are sure to change their mind. However, most of those (who left the program) stayed in the medical arena. One is applying to physical therapy school, another wants to become a physician’s assistant. They just realized maybe medical school wasn’t their calling.

I really expect this group to be vibrant leaders at KCU. They all have the potential, drive and stamina that is required. Maybe they felt like they were guinea pigs, and perhaps they were, but I think once everyone can see their success – and I’m certain they’ll be successful – that will really spark the YTL program.

FORMAN: I think that taking all the different classes has prepared me for the fast pace and depth of material in medical school.

ELLIOT: I had to adapt my studying and time management, but it should be a smooth transition into medical school because of that.