St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Health Care Professions
program alumni are charting a course for success
By Tom Donahue
It was a day or two after the first block of exams at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in early October, and several students who arrived at GW through the dual admission or early assurance program with St. Bonaventure University were hanging out, talking.
Someone opened the St. Bonaventure website on his computer and there they were in a big photo on the home page: 10 recent St. Bonaventure graduates who are now attending medical school at GW — all sporting crisp white lab coats, all smiling proudly, and one, naturally, holding up a “Rock the Reilly” towel.
Across the bottom of the photo was the message “becoming prepared.”
“It’s funny,” said Tommy Zaikos, one of the students in the photo and one of the Bonnies in the room that day. “We had been talking about our transition from college to medical school and the exact words out of my mouth were, ‘we’re all better prepared.’
“It’s odd to say — I mean, I don’t want to jinx myself — but I think all the other Bonaventure students share the same feeling that our first block of exams was actually kind of easy,” said Zaikos, a 2010 SBU graduate. “I think Bonaventure prepared us very well.”
It’s natural to wonder how you’ll do in medical school when you come from a college most of your classmates know little about.
“There are students here from MIT and Johns Hopkins,” said Zaikos. “And other students, who entered GW the same way I did, through an early assurance program, come from places like Maryland and other large colleges and universities throughout the country. They don’t come from 2,000-student colleges in the middle of Western New York. The fact that we have this program at St. Bonaventure is incredible.”
George Washington has no other joint BS/MD program with an undergraduate institution, so the dual admit program with St. Bonaventure is a big lure for high school students far and wide who recognize GW as one of the foremost medical institutions in North America.
But while it is the flagship program for medical school-bound students at St. Bonaventure, it is just one of several dual or combined degree opportunities under the university’s Franciscan Health Care Professions program.
There are also combined degree programs in medicine with SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, with campuses in Erie, Pa., and Bradenton, Fla.; a dual degree program with LECOM’s School of Pharmacy; a dual degree program with University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine; and a dual degree program with Daemen College School of Physical Therapy.
DUAL-DEGREE students have a reserved seat in medical school awaiting them upon satisfactory completion of their undergraduate work at Bonaventure.
Requirements vary from school to school, but GW even waives the Medical College Admission Test requirement, making its dual admit program particularly inviting.
St. Bonaventure also has early assurance programs in medicine with GW and Upstate Medical. Students apply for early assurance after their sophomore year at Bonaventure and, if accepted, are guaranteed a seat in medical school when they graduate.
It’s natural for a small liberal arts college to have little name recognition beyond the limits of its traditional admissions recruitment area, but the Franciscan Health Care Professions program is helping to place St. Bonaventure on the “desired” list of prospective college students across the country.
There are 77 students, 29 of them freshmen, presently enrolled in dual degree and early assurance programs at St. Bonaventure, said Dr. Allen Knowles, Franciscan Health Care Professions director. And while most of those students come from the Northeast, the number includes students from California, Arizona, Florida and Michigan.
“Really, they’re from all over,” said Knowles. “And these are high quality applicants who have options.”
Many of them learn of St. Bona-venture from Medical School Admission Requirements, the premed student’s “bible” published annually by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Others land on the Bonaventure website after searching for dual degree programs.
Typically, they apply to multiple dual degree programs and they have a handful of acceptances from which to choose.
Many find themselves heading to St. Bonaventure for reasons that ring familiar with any alum.
Devin Patel, a first-year medical student at GW, grew up outside of Philadelphia. St. Bonaventure was one of a half-dozen schools with dual degree programs that he applied to.
“I really liked the feel when I visited,” said Patel. “Everyone was so personable. It was a lot different from all the other interviews I had, just because everybody was so genuine and so interested in helping you out.”
JOHN BERNETT, another first-year GW medical student, applied to 15 schools with dual degree programs and was accepted at eight of them. The Sayre, Pa., native said St. Bonaventure presented “more of a family atmosphere. At some of the big schools, you were just a number and they pushed you through the process. At Bonaventure it was definitely more like a family.”
Brooke Blazius, a St. Bonaventure junior who has a seat at LECOM in Erie waiting for her when she graduates, grew up an hour north of Detroit.
“I applied to 11 colleges and about six were dual admission programs,” she said. “St. Bonaventure was the first to give me an interview — they responded quicker than anyone else. I always liked the idea of a smaller campus, smaller class sizes, more attention from teachers, so that was definitely a plus on paper. But when I came here I really loved how beautiful the area was and I just thought it was a place I could see myself for the next four years of my life.”
The architect of the Franciscan Health Care Professions program was Dr. Michael Domboski, a 1972 St. Bonaventure graduate who went on to earn a doctor of medical dentistry degree from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, then practiced in Olean for 22 years.
After selling his practice in 2000, Domboski mentioned to a neighbor that he’d like to do some teaching at a community college. The neighbor, Dr. Robert Harlan, professor of computer science at St. Bonaventure, urged him to contact then-dean of Arts and Sciences Dr. James White.
“Jim had heard something about these dual admission agreements – our sister school, Siena, had one with Albany Medical College – and wondered if I was willing to come down and look into it for St. Bonaventure,” said Domboski.
He would spend the next seven years establishing the eight dual degree and early assurance programs under the Franciscan Health Care Professions umbrella.
Domboski first approached LECOM in Erie because of its close proximity to Bonaven-ture and because it already had dual degree programs with other schools. Using the Siena plan as a model, he secured contracts with LECOM for dual degree programs in osteopathic medicine and pharmacy.
Then he had a brainstorm. Some 30 years earlier, Domboski had done his three-year oral and facial residency at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and a fellowship in facial plastic surgery at George Washington University School of Medicine.
“I was sitting in my office one day and thought, gee, I wonder if anybody’s left that I had some contact with,” he recalled. “So I wrote a cold letter to the dean of admissions at the medical school at GW.”
A week later he got a letter from Diane McQuail, assistant dean of admissions at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “She said, ‘ya know, we’d be very interested,’” said Domboski. George Washington had a dual BA/MD program with its own undergraduate school and was thinking of starting a BS/MD program.
No one was more surprised than Domboski at how quickly things fell into place. “Of all the contracts I’ve done, it was probably the easiest,” he said.
“Within six weeks, I had a fully functional program with them. We were going to be their bachelor of science/medical program.
“I think a lot of it was my relationship with them 30 years earlier … but I was probably just in the right place at the right time,” said Domboski.
It was more than serendipity that brought the schools together, said Dean McQuail.
“When Mike approached me I was intrigued, particularly since St. Bonaventure, as we do, has a mission of service,” she said.
“Academic rigor is clearly important, but experience is important to us as well. Frankly, one of the concerns about dual degree programs is that kids come in and they don’t do very much. They’re in the program and they sort of coast through. They do really well academically but don’t really push themselves to go outside the box to have other experiences. But the Bonaventure students absolutely do. The students we’re getting from Bonaventure have done some interesting things.”
THE SBU-GW program is 4+4, meaning students must spend four years at St. Bonaventure before going to GW. But many dual admit students arrive at Bonaventure with a semester or more worth of AP and college credits.
Coast? As a Bonaventure undergraduate, Zaikos, a native of Ontario, Canada, was a four-year varsity soccer player, a tutor, lab assistant, summer researcher, and was named the Ideal Bonaventure Student at commencement.
In his four years at Bonaventure, Shawn Sood, ’09, of Katy, Texas, earned both a bachelor’s degree in biology and an MBA before heading to GW. First-year GW med student Shilpa Bansal, ’10, of Bethpage, N.Y., started the Asian Students In Action club while at SBU. And Keelan O’Connell, ’10, of Abilene, Texas, completed her undergraduate work in three years and is presently on a mission trip in East Timor before entering GW next fall.
Knowles, who followed Domboski as program director in November 2008, said service is part of the Franciscan Health Care Professions students’ contract, but no arm-twisting is needed.
“I think it is something that is just in the warp and weft of the school,” he said. “They participate in Bona Responds, Bona Buddies, the Warming House and spring break service trips, in addition to completing internship opportunities at Olean General Hospital, area nursing homes and daycare centers.
“We start when they are freshmen, saying, ‘When you go to GW, what are you going to take with you other than A’s in biology courses? What are you going to bring to their community of scholars that is going to make it a better place?”
St. Bonaventure is doing things right, said Dean McQuail.
“I can’t say enough good things about it. I’ve run early selection and linkage programs for more than 20 years and this really is a well-oiled program,” she said. “It’s the work on the ground that you all have been doing – certainly Mike (Domboski), Allen (Knowles), everyone in Admissions, and everybody else that’s supportive. They’re wonderful people to work with, and it certainly seems that Bonaventure is a community that supports its students.”
PERHAPS THE best endorsement of the Franciscan Health Care Professions program comes from the students themselves.
“The unique thing about Bonaventure is that it has so many of these programs that there is essentially a sub-community of students with pre-health contracts who have similar goals and interests,” said Danielle Schenone, a Bonaventure junior from Elmira who has a seat awaiting her at SUNY Upstate Medical. “We do tend to study together and interact together because we have that in common.”
Knowles said the programs are also a lure for students who intend to take the traditional path to a medical career by applying to medical school after getting a bachelor’s degree at Bonaventure.
“They see we have these connections with medical schools and assume we’re doing something right,” he said.
Students also cite as Bonaventure bonuses the $13.5 million William F. Walsh Science Center that opened in 2008, small class sizes, and the opportunity to work closely with dedicated and approachable faculty.
“Right now, if I wanted to, I could go knock on the door of a biology professor or a chemistry professor, a Ph.D., and say, ‘Hey, how’d your son’s soccer game go, or what did you do this weekend — and by the way, can you explain what you were talking about in your lecture today?” said Schenone. “There’s no gate you have to cross, no teaching assistant you have to go to first. That’s definitely a Bonaventure advantage.”
Dr. Michael Fischer, provost and vice president for academic affairs at St. Bonaven-ture, said the university’s ability to form and sustain relationships with prestigious medical schools is certainly a reflection of the energy and commitment of Drs. Domboski and Knowles, but it’s much more.
“It’s also an endorsement of our academic programs and the ability of our knowledgeable, caring and dedicated professors to prepare our students for the most challenging academic and professional pursuits that await them when they leave here,” he said.
“And most importantly, I think that it speaks volumes about the quality of our students, that they are offered acceptance to top medical schools before they have even graduated from high school.”
GW’s Dean McQuail couldn’t agree more. “We’re getting some great students from St. Bonaventure,” she said. “When they come here they’re alive, very gracious, very interested. They’re genuinely nice kids.”