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First Ohio University Early Assurance Program students to graduate from medical school

When you know, you know. 

When Amy Mehlman Strope was young, she enjoyed helping her grandfather check his blood sugar and draw up insulin injections that she’d help administer. When Rosemary Oaks was a child, she’d accompany her mother, who is a family doctor, to her clinic, and she’d spend all afternoon flipping through dermatology textbooks and talking about how “gross and cool” the rashes were. 

At a young age, both Mehlman Strope and Oaks had a shared love for science, learning and human connection, which inevitably led them to pursue medicine. In high school, they both discovered Ohio University’s brand-new Early Assurance Program (EAP) through the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. In just a few weeks they will become the first two students who were accepted into the program in 2013 to graduate as physicians. 

Heritage College Early Assurance Program

The streamlined program allows students to complete their undergraduate degree from OHIO (or one of its five other partner universities in the state) and their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from the Heritage College in as few as seven years. 

“When I looked into the program further, I was enticed by their accelerated 3+4 program, which would help me save on one year of college tuition, as well as help me to obtain my medical degree at the age of 24,” Mehlman Strope explained. “The EAP enabled me to save money from not needing to purchase MCAT study materials, taking the MCAT, or paying for primary or secondary applications for many different medical schools. As a first-generation college student with demonstrated financial need, these were major influences in my decision to apply for the program.”

Undergraduate years

Both Mehlman Strope and Oaks were able to closely acquaint themselves with Heritage College faculty as undergraduates. They were also given the opportunity to shadow local physicians several times per year during their undergraduate education, which exposed them even more to the medical field and continued to motivate them.

“HCOM provided us with medical student mentors and special shadowing opportunities that are often not even awarded to current medical students,” Oaks noted. “I had extremely valuable experiences as an undergraduate where I learned more in depth about what it is like to be a medical student and even a physician. As I transitioned to medical school from undergrad, HCOM was even more supportive, and the matriculation was smooth.”

At the end of their third undergraduate year, Heritage College Executive Dean and OHIO Chief Medical Affairs Officer Kenneth Johnson, D.O., and the college set up a small celebration for Mehlman Strope and Oaks, where they were hand-delivered their medical school acceptance letters. 

“They went out of their way to make us feel special about this huge milestone, and it is a moment I will never forget,” Mehlman Strope said. “We shared cake, laughs, and lots of positive thinking for our future careers.” 

Onwards and upwards

Those careers are just around the corner. While Mehlman Strope’s idea of a dream job is still evolving, she knows she wants to make a difference in the lives of her patients and the communities she will work in. Mehlman Strope will be doing her residency training in family medicine at UPMC St. Margaret in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

She believes there is a large language and educational barrier that exists in patient care, which she hopes to combat. Being a primary care provider, as a family medicine physician specifically, will enable her to be on the frontlines of healthcare as the first contact a patient likely has with establishing care and having longitudinal care. 

She will be a doctor — but she also wants to be an educator, advocate, and ally. 

“I think the atmosphere at OHIO helped me to experience people of many different walks of life with very diverse upbringings, ideas, and opinions that made me question my own opinions and learn more about different cultures and experiences,” Mehlman Strope said. “I also think that the advisors and mentors I have had through OHIO and HCOM have prepared me to think hard about what I want out of my education and career, while also motivating me to push myself out of my comfort zone to discover new interests and continue to gain skills and self-confidence. I feel as if these are all essential for success and fulfillment in my future job as a family medicine physician.”

As for Oaks, she will be starting a residency program in dermatology this summer at Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida. She hopes to one day practice general dermatology in a community outpatient clinic. 

Oaks said she’d like to live and work in the same community with a mix of patients from different backgrounds, and she wants her career to incorporate surgeries, cosmetics, and a broad range of dermatologic pathologies. 

“I have always hoped to find a career that is both fulfilling and forces me to learn and accept challenges,” Oaks explained. “I have found all of those things in medicine. I initially loved dermatology because of the relationship between internal disease and dermatologic manifestations. I find it pretty cool to diagnose someone just by looking at them.”

It feels surreal to Oaks that her time at OHIO is coming to an end. She’s excited and eager to take on next steps in her career, but she’s spent all of her adult life as a student at Ohio University. Oaks said she’s forever grateful to the University for taking a chance on her and allowing her to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.

“I think OHIO prepared me in the traditional sense of providing me with an educational foundation for the remainder of my training. But I also think it prepared me socially in a lot of ways that I did not expect,” Oaks added. “I have definitely broadened my horizons through my interactions with faculty, students, and patients during my time as a student. My worldview has been changed in a lot of ways through exposure to people I would not have met otherwise.”

No place like Athens

Oaks grew up in Worthington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. She wanted to get out of central Ohio for undergrad, and she wanted to experience the freedom of going away to school without being too far from her very close-knit family. 

The soon-to-be two-time OHIO graduate knew from family members that OHIO provided a strong education. Her parents are both physicians, having met when they were cadaver partners in an anatomy lab at the Heritage College.

Oaks chose to complete her undergraduate studies in biological sciences from OHIO’s Honors Tutorial College in Athens and attend medical school at the Heritage College, Dublin.

“Although I attended medical school up here in Columbus, I have always loved the atmosphere in Athens,” Oaks added. “The beauty of the campus and the collaborative energy there is amazing. I will miss fall on the Athens Campus, Bagel Street Deli, and the collegial attitude that comes along with being part of a group of students. I’ll miss being around the smart and eager students and the faculty and preceptors who were constantly pushing us to be our best selves.”

As soon as Mehlman Strope visited OHIO, she felt at home. It ended up being the only college in the state that she applied to. She’s called the rolling landscape of southeast Ohio and the quintessential college town of Athens home for the past several years, completing both her undergraduate degree in biological sciences and medical school studies at the Athens Campus.

“The education and experience I’ve had over the last seven years has been outstanding. The culture and people at OHIO make it an easy-going, friendly, and fun academic establishment,” said Mehlman Strope, who grew up in Bellaire, Ohio.

“I feel OHIO gave me a wonderful balance of both educational and community opportunities,” she continued. “There is so much to do in Athens and even on campus. Plus, the food, coffee shops, and local stores make it such an eclectic and homey environment. There is seemingly a place for every person and their unique interests in Athens. Ohio University is truly a gem that is an absolute must for experiencing firsthand.”

As both Oaks and Mehlman Strope embark on their new journeys, their time at OHIO and the experiences they’ve had in Athens will stay with them, forever. 

“Graduating with my Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine marks my final journey as a student, but my learning will never cease,” Mehlman Strope said. “I pursued this career to become a lifelong learner, and I am ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

April 19, 2021
Alaina Bartel

About the Heritage College Early Assurance Program

Outstanding high school seniors from the state of Ohio are invited to apply to the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Early Assurance Program. In as few as seven years, students can earn their undergraduate degree from Ohio University and their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from the Heritage College. Besides OHIO, the Heritage College has partnerships with five universities in the state so students can choose where to obtain their undergraduate degree: Baldwin Wallace, John Carroll, Ohio Dominican, Otterbein, and Shawnee State.