PAWS Puts Students on Path to Medical School

Ariah Vaden
Ariah Vaden, who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Missouri, participates in a Pathways to Success (PAWS) meeting at the MU School of Medicine.

Growing up in the southwest Missouri town of Webb City, Ariah Vaden enjoyed watching medical dramas on television and getting her hands dirty in science class. “When most kids would say, ‘Ew, blood,’ I would say, ‘That’s so awesome,’ ” Vaden said.

As a strong student who showed an interest in medicine on her undergraduate application to the University of Missouri, Vaden was alerted to a new program called Pathways to Success (PAWS). She joined the inaugural 10-person PAWS class.

The program’s mission is to help underrepresented minorities, first-generation and economically disadvantaged students become competitive medical school applicants. PAWS is designed to build a relationship between those students and the MU School of Medicine.

“Among our Mizzou students, we noticed we were losing a lot of them to other medical schools,” said Laura Henderson Kelley, MD, who is the co-director of PAWS along with Susan Geisert of MU’s MedOpp Advising Office. “We created a program that would help them get to know the medical school and hopefully matriculate here.”

Students can apply to join PAWS before or during their freshman year at MU. If accepted, they receive tutoring, MCAT prep sessions and opportunities to shadow MU Health Care doctors.

“Shadowing was helpful, because I know a lot of people have trouble finding a doctor to shadow and have to email like 10 people,” said Zayd Al Prawi, who recently completed his freshman year. “PAWS set us up with our doctor. We just had to show up.”

PAWS works in conjunction with Mizzou MedPrep, another program designed to help underrepresented students prepare for medical school. PAWS members will participate in MedPrep workshops as upperclassmen.

Students who stick with the PAWS program, post a 3.3 GPA in math and science classes and score at least a 503 on the MCAT are guaranteed an interview with the MU School of Medicine.

“Coming here, I didn’t know what to expect going pre-med,” Vaden said. “Once I got here, PAWS helped me understand the process. Knowing they’re going to be here to help us through it, it’s nice to not feel like I’m on my own.”