Saint Joseph’s, Jefferson partner to train future doctors as autism specialists

Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia is home of the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. (Philadelphia Business Journal)

Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia is home of the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. (Philadelphia Business Journal)

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Business Journal.

Saint Joseph’s University and Thomas Jefferson University are collaborating to develop what they say will be the country’s first program to train future physicians as autism specialists.

The program, which begins this year, will allow students at Saint Joseph’s University majoring or minoring in autism behavioral studies to participate in Jefferson’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College Scholars program in their junior year, and potentially enter medical school “MCAT-free” following graduation.

The collaboration seeks to combine Jefferson’s clinical expertise with the work already being done to educate autism professionals at Saint Joseph’s Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support.

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Dr. Mark Tykocinski, provost of Thomas Jefferson University and dean of Sidney Kimmel Medical College, said the country’s health care system “remains woefully underprepared” to deal with the unique needs of its growing autism population in medical settings outside of autism-specific interventions. More than 3.5 million Americans are now living with autism spectrum disorder.

“By preparing future physicians, we will fundamentally change medical care for individuals with autism,” Tykocinski said.

Angela McDonald, dean of Saint Joseph’s School of Health Studies and Education, said the joint program is exactly the type of initiative the university envisioned when it formed the School of Health Studies during the summer of 2018.

“This program leverages our unique strength in preparing autism professionals of tomorrow (through the Kinney Center), while providing our students with early assurance to one of the nation’s premiere medical schools,” McDonald said.

To be admitted to Sidney Kimmel Medical College through the program without submitting MCAT scores, Saint Joseph’s students – who would apply to Jefferson during their junior year – must achieve an ACT score of 30 or a minimum composite SAT score of 1350 with no score in either the critical reading or mathematics section lower than 650. The students must also maintain a 3.5 grade point average in science and overall, and complete all Scholar program requirements — including 500 hours working directly with individuals with autism. Students will still have the opportunity to take the MCATs and apply through the traditional pathway.

Students participating in the program will attend a six-week “summer experience” at Jefferson after their junior year that will focus on case-based learning and scholarly research. Students will also have the opportunity to pursue research at Saint Joseph’s under the direction of autism researcher Joseph McCleery, the executive director of academic programs at the Kinney Center, and at Thomas Jefferson University’s autism programs.

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