Four years ago, Zachary Eklum was a high school senior in Jamestown, N.Y., who wanted to work in the health care field. Today, he’s on course to become the first student from Fredonia to attend Upstate Medical University through its Early Assurance Program.
Mr. Eklum was accepted into the Upstate Medical Early Assurance Program ̶ created to address a shortage of physicians in rural communities in New York State ̶ while still attending Jamestown High School. Academically gifted high school students accepted into the program will be enrolled in the Rural Medical Scholars Program as medical students after matriculating from an institution that has an articulation agreement in place with Upstate.
Fredonia is one of only nine colleges and universities that have this special admission option with Upstate for high school seniors.
Once accepted into the program, students must fulfill graduation requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree, achieve a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher in general and science-specific courses, complete medical school prerequisite courses, perform volunteer service and physician shadowing and attain a recommended score of 509 or higher on the MCAT exam.
No doubt, Eklum’s impressive academic credentials at the high school level and his desire to practice medicine in his native Chautauqua County dovetail nicely with the program’s objectives. He was valedictorian of Jamestown’s class of 2013, graduating with a New York State Advanced Regents Diploma with honors and receiving numerous academic, athletic and leadership awards.
Eklum chose to attend Fredonia due to its smaller campus environment and low student-faculty ratio, in addition to being “close to home.” Faculty members are highly accessible for academic assistance and are highly active in research, Eklum noted, and that can open doors for students to conduct research at Fredonia.
“While in high school, I heard about the opportunity to do research at Fredonia as an undergraduate, which made an impact on my decision to attend Fredonia,” Eklum said. At the same time, he learned about the Fredonia/Upstate Medical University articulation agreement, signed in 2012, that would lead to what Eklum considers an “unbelievable opportunity” to enter Upstate Medical University’s class of 2021 after completing his Fredonia studies.
Eklum thrived academically at Fredonia. He entered his senior year with a 3.96 GPA and has been the recipient of four scholarship awards through the Fredonia College Foundation (Honors, Walter Gotowka, Adele Maytum Hunter and Fiat-Lux (Let there be light). He’s enrolled in the Honors Program and is a member of Golden Key International Honour Society, Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society and the Biology Club. Eklum has also served as treasurer of the Health Professions Club and Fredonia Tennis Club.
Biology professor Scott Medler met Eklum, then in high school and prior to his acceptance into the Upstate program, on a campus visit. “He has always impressed me as someone with a solid intellect and a strong work ethic,” said Dr. Medler. Eklum has performed research in Medler’s lab and finished in the highest position – more than 5 percent above the next student – among more than 30 students in Medler’s Mammalian Physiology course.
“In my experience, Zack thoroughly understands complex ideas and processes very easily. He is a natural learner and problem solver,” Medler added.
Biology professor and Health Professions Committee advisor Ted Lee says 2016-2017 is shaping up to be banner year for Fredonia pre-health students. “I have four students who have already been accepted (three medical and one optometry) and five additional students (two medical, one optometry and one dental) who have interviews lined up at health professional schools. There are also three-to-four who I think are good candidates to get interviews,” Dr. Lee added.
“We will have our best year for students and alumni going onto medical, dental, optometry, veterinary and pharmacy schools next fall,” Dr. Lee said.
The opportunity to work directly with patients convinced Eklum to set a goal to become a physician instead of pursuing careers in dentistry or pharmacy. “Physicians are typically the most direct line of health care for the patient and also attend to a multitude of tasks each day. These aspects of the occupation are highly appealing to me,” he explained.
Eklum, who is majoring in Biology and has minors in Chemistry and Psychology, hasn’t chosen a specialization, though he’s currently gravitating toward family medicine, internal medicine, cardiology and radiology. It is typical for medical school students to select a specialty in their third year, when opportunities are greater to interact with physicians and patients in teaching hospitals.
What Eklum has already decided is to return to Chautauqua County to practice medicine. He is a son of Todd and Dawn Eklum, both pharmacists in the region and graduates of the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy.
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