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UTEP Graduates Ready for First Year of Medical School

Last Updated on May 27, 2022 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 27, 2022

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP Marketing and Communications

As a winter storm blanketed Boston in late January 2022, Annie L. Johnson, a biological sciences major at The University of Texas at El Paso at the time, piled on two pairs of pants and three long-sleeved shirts underneath her winter coat and made her way through the heavy snowfall to attend a histology class at Boston University’s (BU) graduate school.

Class of 2022 UTEP graduates Annie L. Johnson, left, and Juan P. Mata, right, are headed to Boston University School of Medicine in fall 2022. Photo: J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Marketing and Communications
Class of 2022 UTEP graduates Annie L. Johnson, left, and Juan P. Mata, right, are headed to Boston University School of Medicine in fall 2022. Photo: J.R. Hernandez / UTEP Marketing and Communications

Johnson, a May 2022 UTEP graduate, had been preparing for a spot at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) since her sophomore year at UTEP through BU’s Early Medical School Selection Program (EMSSP).

The early assurance program grants provisional acceptance to the medical school to undergraduate students from UTEP and 12 other BUSM partner universities. Students who are accepted into EMSSP spend the summer after their sophomore and junior years, and their senior year taking graduate-level courses at BU to help ease their transition to BUSM’s culture and curriculum.

At UTEP, Johnson developed strong study habits and faculty support to help her navigate through BU’s rigorous coursework and endure the city’s freezing weather, which was a far cry from the mild winter temperatures the native El Pasoan was used to.

“UTEP did a really great job for me personally by preparing me to be able to excel in those challenging courses at BU,” said Johnson, who also credited the program with helping her get ready for the challenges of living in a different city. “On the first day, you can't help but feel (out of place), but once you get in the groove of things, you realize that you already have the tools that are needed to do well, and you just need to pull them out. It was about studying for hours, being dedicated, being disciplined, and those were all things that I had to do prior to moving to Boston.”

Students who meet all the program’s requirements and obtain a passing score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) can expect to be promoted to BUSM upon completion of their undergraduate education.

Johnson and fellow EMSSP alumnus Juan P. Mata, who received a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from UTEP this spring, are expected to start BUSM in fall 2022.

“I’m really thankful for EMSSP because it gave me a lot of direction,” said Johnson, who hopes to return to El Paso and specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. She said her mentor, Gail Arnold, Ph.D., guided her “every step of the way, telling me, ‘This is what you need to do. This is the score you need to hit.’ It really helped me figure out this journey, and I didn't feel alone.”

Increasing Physician Diversity

EMSSP is nationally recognized as a unique effort to increase diversity in the physician workforce. The program better prepares students to transition into the medical school curriculum through emphasis on study skills and exposure to graduate-level coursework and the development of a unique, supportive community.

BUSM is an urban school affiliated with a teaching hospital that serves a large minority population. Its mission focuses on preparing culturally competent, clinically excellent physicians to meet the health care needs of a diverse population.

UTEP is one of two Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the consortium, which also includes one Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institution and 10 historically black colleges and universities. More than a dozen graduates have matriculated to BUSM since 2008.

Arnold, director of UTEP's Medical Professions Institute, which oversees EMSSP, said Boston University’s commitment to increase access for underrepresented minority students to careers in medicine aligns with UTEP’s mission to provide historically underrepresented students access to excellent higher education.

“The EMSSP pathway provides a strongly supportive network, a culture of service to the underserved and underrepresented, and creates a ‘family’ of like-minded individuals who are united in their vision and goals for their future careers,” said Arnold, who tries to prepare students for all aspects of the program, including adapting to life in Boston.

Among those students was Antonio Lozano, who successfully finished his first year at BUSM in spring 2022. Moving to Boston from El Paso pushed Lozano, who graduated from UTEP’s biological sciences program in 2021, out of his comfort zone. At BUSM, he had to quickly adjust to the curriculum’s fast pace, which involved attending two to four lectures a day and taking a final exam every two to three weeks.

Lozano admitted that he had to modify his study habits and time management skills to keep up with the program. Yet, he still found time to learn to cook, make new friends and participate in clinical research in the department of thoracic surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He also founded the Cardiothoracic Surgery Interest Group at BUSM.

Lozano’s advice to first-year medical students like Johnson and Mata is to read the syllabus before the lectures, respect your classmates and remember that medical school is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Read, study and practice more than others and you will be prepared and it will show,” said Lozano, who plans to pursue an integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency after medical school. “But never step on other people to come out on top. This class will be your family and your backbone for the next four years.”

Investment in His Future

Juan P. Mata said EMSSP was the first step toward his dream to become a neonatal surgeon. Despite living in Boston his senior year, Mata managed to earn his undergraduate degree debt free.

Students who spend their senior year at BU take a combination of undergraduate and graduate-level courses. They retain degree candidacy at their home institutions as they participate in individualized programs of study at BU that satisfy the undergraduate academic requirements and lay the foundation for first-year medical school curriculum.

Rather than pay BU’s tuition and fees, which can average up to $60,000 per semester, Mata paid the same cost as his UTEP tuition to attend BU during the fall and spring semesters. Since Mata lived at home while attending UTEP, BU also provided free housing in the university’s dorms.

“That was another great thing about EMSSP,” said Mata, who worked as a pharmacy technician at University Medical Center to pay for school. “I think it was incredible that they are able to match your tuition. I’m so happy I got to graduate debt free.”

Mata plans to take out loans to pay for medical school, which he sees as a good investment in his future if he can make a difference in people’s lives as a physician. He credits the program with providing him with stability and structure to get him to the point where he is today.

“At the beginning of the program they made us do an exercise where we had to list the reasons why we wanted to go to medical school,” Mata said. “It was one of those assignments that’s meant to remind you why you want to go to medical school when it gets hard. You pull out that sheet of paper and you remember why you want to be here. And I want to be someone in this world who does something good for humanity.”

For information about the EMSSP at UTEP, visit