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KnoRx: Prescription for Success

By Peter Bailley '74

For a small liberal arts college, Knox is a big shot in the field of pre-medical education.

In Knox's first graduating class, the Class of 1846, the nine graduates included one who would become a physician. Thirteen of 148 alumni in the Class of 1900 had careers in medicine. Computerized records cover just a fraction of Knox's 170-year history, but it's estimated that about one in 12 Knox alumni have become physicians.

According to the most recent data, more than 85 percent of Knox graduates who apply to medical school are accepted, compared to a national acceptance rate of less than 50 percent. Much of Knox's current success in pre-medical education can be traced to the initiative of James A. Campbell '39, a renowned physician and medical educator who performed the first heart catheterization in Chicago and later became the first president of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

A Cardiologist Pumps a Program
In the early 1970s Campbell, who also served on the Knox Board of Trustees, approached College officials with a vision: medical students would benefit if they could begin their training in Knox's liberal arts setting, then complete their medical degrees at Rush Medical College. It would be known as the Knox-Rush Medical School Program, and it produced more than 160 physicians in its 11-year span.

The Knox-Rush program evolved in 1984 to its present form, an "early identification" program, in which Knox students are selected during their first year on campus. They are free to major in any field, don't have to hit a certain mark on the MCAT, and are guaranteed admission to Rush upon completion of their Knox degrees. The program accepts an average of three students a year

"The Knox-Rush program removes so much of the stress associated with applying for medical school," said Leigh Abrams '08, who was selected for the program two years ago. "I applied for the program because it gives me a chance to pursue both English and chemistry, study abroad, and reap the benefits of a liberal arts education by broadening my horizons, without having to worry if those things are taking away from my chances of getting into a good medical school." Abrams even played on Knox's women's water polo team in 2005, the year that the club advanced to the national tournament.

Expert Faculty Direction
Guided for many years by Billy Geer, Clara A. Abbott Professor Emeritus of Biology, the Knox-Rush link is part of Knox's Program in Medicine. The current faculty advisor is Judith Thorn, associate professor of biology, a noted researcher in developmental, cell, and molecular biology.

"The best medical schools look for broadly educated students," Thorn says. "Knox students traditionally have been successful in medicine, thanks to first-rate science and mathematics, combined with studies in the arts, humanities, and social sciences."

Geer noted the benefits of the Knox-Rush relationship in his 1997 book Science and the Scientists of Knox College. "Rush professors commented that students [who had studied at Knox] tended to be more outgoing than typical medical students," Geer wrote. "They asked more questions about what and why something was to be done a certain way, and they had a caring relationship with their patients."

The Knox-Rush concept -- combining the liberal arts with pre-medical preparation -- also has been eminently extensible. In addition to the Knox-Rush Early Identification Program, Knox now offers dual-degree programs in nursing, medical technology, occupational therapy, and optometry.

The newest medical option is an early selection program, announced in October 2005, with The George Washington University School of Medicine. Similar to the Rush early identification program, it guarantees admission to GWU medical school while encouraging students to explore the full range of Knox's liberal arts curriculum. The first two Knox students accepted to the program are Linda Kelahan '07 of Lake Forest, Illinois, and Paul Albertine '08 of Lisle, Illinois.

"Getting into this program has actually changed my plans for Knox," says Albertine. "I am in the process of applying for a study abroad program in Copenhagen in fall 2007. If I hadn't gotten into the GW program, there is no way I would have been able to go abroad and still apply to medical schools."

Knox-Rush and Knox-GWU are far from free rides; students have to meet challenging mathematics, science, and GPA requirements. Still, "the provisional guarantee of medical school admission increases the likelihood that students will explore the full range of the liberal arts curriculum and extra-curricular opportunities," said the programs' director, Stephen Bailey, associate dean of the College.

From luminaries such as neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler '67 and vision researcher Denis Baylor '61, both honorary degree recipients, to the 1999 Alumni Achievement Awardees -- Rick Nishimura '75, a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and John Feemster '59, who entered private practice after a distinguished tenure as a physician in the U.S. Army -- to more than 1,000 Knox alumni who today work in the medical field, the Knox experience validates the liberal arts as vital preparation for a career in medicine.

Photo Captions
Photo 1: James A. Campbell '39
Photo 2: Linda Kelahan '07 works through a chemistry experiment. She and Paul Albertine '08 are the first two Knox students accepted into the Knox-George Washington University Early Selection Program.