After Edward Vera Jr.’s dad fell through an attic floor, the then-high school freshman decided to become like the medical providers who kept his father alive beyond that nine-foot drop.
“Because of them, he’s still around today,” said Vera, who set his sights on becoming a doctor.
While the accident kindled the dream, a unique statewide program enabled it. The Joint Admission Medical Program, or JAMP, is a Texas-specific pipeline that helps students with strong academics and a low income enroll in medical school.
Today, Vera is a second-year student at The University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. He’s also one of hundreds of JAMP scholars across the state.
“Without this program, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.
The application for JAMP’s next cohort opens May 1.
What is JAMP?
“JAMP is an undergraduate workforce pipeline program created by the Texas Legislature closing the gaps between participation and success for economically disadvantaged Texans pursuing their dreams of becoming a doctor.”
In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed SB 940 to form JAMP. The bill, authored by former state Sen. Teel Bivins from Amarillo, sought to shrink barriers to medical school entry for students who excelled academically but struggled financially.
JAMP provides participants with undergraduate and medical school scholarships; two summer internships; preparation courses and materials for the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam; ongoing mentorship; and, if students meet academic and testing requirements, guaranteed admission to a medical school in Texas.
“Let’s get you into medical school, through medical school, but you stay in Texas, because this is where we need you,” said Lorena Marin, the JAMP coordinator and assistant director of admission for the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Like the U.S., Texas faces a physician shortage.
Vera grew up in Edinburg, one of the Southern-most cities in the state. He studied biology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and intends to return to the region to practice medicine.
At the moment, he’s thinking family or internal medicine. Or anesthesiology — specifically, pain management. He’s seen his dad’s need for it in the years following the accident. “It made me ask the question, ‘Well, how can we fix this kind of pain?’” he said.
Vera learned about the JAMP program in his sophomore year of high school, not long after his dad’s fall. He remembers seeing a flyer on his guidance counselor’s door.
Texas residents attending a participating Texas college can apply if they meet certain requirements: Their SAT or ACT score must be equal to or higher than the state mean, they must maintain a 3.25 GPA or above, and apply for federal financial aid. Furthermore, their families must be unable to contribute more than $8,000 toward college costs.
The application mimics those for medical school, Marin said, and requires personal essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation and other documents. Finalists take part in an interview process, and, if they’re accepted, the program stretches through their residency match.
Vera applied for JAMP the summer after his first year in college. He recommends that students thinking about applying connect as soon as possible with their college’s JAMP faculty director. That person will ultimately be writing them a recommendation, he said.
After his acceptance, he attended the program’s first summer internship between his sophomore and junior year in college. The four-week, in-person experience took place in Lubbock.
Marin, who coordinates a similar internship at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, sees the experience as an opportunity for students to develop personally. “I want them to expand their palate,” she said.
The internship includes faculty-taught classes in medicine, an MCAT preparation course and other enrichment activities, like an excursion to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose. For some students, the summer is one of firsts: First time out of their hometown, first time flying in an airplane, first time eating certain cuisines.
The second summer offers a similar experience, with a more intensive focus on medical school. In between, JAMP provides students with a virtual MCAT preparation course, and when the time comes for students to apply to medical school, they interview with participating medical schools in Texas. Finally, in a process akin to the residency match, students rank schools and schools rank students.
If the students hold up their end of the bargain — proper GPA, proper MCAT score, etc. — they’re guaranteed admission into the school with which they match.
As a medical student himself, Vera now helps mentor new JAMP scholars during their own summer internships.
“It’s honestly a really good feeling, being able to take my experiences, whether it be success or failure, and be able to show the younger generation of JAMP,” he said.
Meanwhile, Marin mentors Vera and other students in his cohort. Lately, she said, she’s been working to support and encourage them as people, not merely students. The day of her interview with the Fort Worth Report, she threw a lunch party for JAMP scholars with April birthdays.
“I think the biggest thing is just cheering them on, you know? The biggest thing is being there, not so much academically because I can’t be, but just for their morale,” she said.
She writes encouragement cards and offers free meals when she can.
“Something to look forward to that’s not related to school, but where they can just have fun and have someone show they care,” she said. “Yeah, that goes far. That goes really far.”
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.