Samantha Ford had always wanted to go to medical school, but after training in a clinical laboratory setting at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, she gained a new perspective on how research can play a role in her future career as a physician.

Ford will graduate this summer from the Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MSMS) program at the UK College of Medicine. During the program, Ford trained with Gregory Jicha, MD, PhD, a leading clinician-scientist at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. Ford was able to work with real patients and use the latest state-of-the-art science to propel forward the understanding of neurodegenerative diseases.

Her research focused on biomarkers of diseases like Alzheimer’s that begin many years before patients develop memory problems. Additionally, her project provided critical insights into why the brain malfunctions, hopefully, one day leading to improved treatments and a cure for diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“Having this experience with this lab has been life-changing,” Ford said. “You can shadow a million different doctors, but you don’t normally get that real patient interaction. Whereas, I'm getting that here. And I know that medicine is something that I want to stick with already.”

Dr. Jicha said the MSMS program is an opportunity for students like Ford to begin to really “think like a scientist” from critical thinking to applications such as cost management and streamlining scientific progress.

The MSMS program is also a chance to pursue clinical research in-depth for the first time, or students can use the program as a platform for advanced understanding of their previous technical scientific work. The process starts with project development, proposal writing, and continues with hands-on engagement supporting students’ unique projects. Ultimately, they will produce a thesis or manuscript that helps them master the roles of a medical scientist.

“The program promotes future career growth that most pursue through advanced training in MD or PhD training programs,” Dr. Jicha said. “The MSMS program is a stepping stone to reach their ultimate goals. That has never failed for any of my MSMS students.”

While the MSMS can be used as a standalone degree for a variety of biomedical professions, Ford signed up because she wanted to enhance her application to medical school. Ford also had an interest in research, not necessarily as a future MD/PhD, but as a clinician with research capabilities. The program’s interdisciplinary approach to biomedical education combines expertise from all seven College of Medicine basic science departments.

The MSMS curriculum included six core classes with the flexibility to pursue other interests. In Ford’s case, that was advanced neurology – and to her surprise, statistics.

“I would never have traditionally taken that class, but now I’m doing data analysis and using every single tool they gave me in class,” Ford said. “I love that about the program. Even though it’s not geared toward pushing you to research, it still pushes you to want to go into research and gives you the tools to be more successful in the future.”

One of her goals was to be the first author of a paper, which means to contribute a majority of the work to the write-up. The program helped her achieve her dream, as she is currently working on a publication.

Because of the MSMS program, Ford feels well-equipped to go through medical school. This summer, she returns home to attend the UK College of Medicine-Northern Kentucky Campus. Northern Kentucky is where her family is and where she feels she has a “great support system.”

Knowing the Northern Kentucky Campus celebrated its first Match Day this spring, she is even more excited to get started.

“I remember I was maybe a sophomore in college when they came out with the campus, and I was so excited. I was like, ‘I cannot wait to apply here,’” she said.

All that is left for Ford is to complete her thesis – and then defend it – and she will graduate ready to become a well-rounded physician as she starts medical school in August.

“Sam has integrated her training in all of these experiences and understands Alzheimer’s disease better now than most scientists or doctors,” Dr. Jicha said. “She will be starting medical school this summer, and I could not be more proud of her. Stand back, world. Sam is coming and she is going to do great things!”