The PharmSTEP and DentSTEP programs give motivated Shepherd University students early access to the programs they will eventually enter at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., and provide them with unique opportunities to better prepare them for studies at WVU, according to information distributed during the press conference.
Officials hope that offering the pre-pharmacy and pre-dentistry programs at Shepherd will result in more local students entering those fields and hopefully resulting in more dental-care providers and pharmacists setting up shop in the growing Eastern Panhandle, said Shepherd University President David L. Dunlop.
In recent years in West Virginia, there have been around 16.8 doctors for every 10,000 people, compared to 20 doctors for every 10,000 people nationally. In the Eastern Panhandle, there have been as few as 9.3 doctors for every 10,000 people, state health officials have said.
Undergraduate students at Shepherd University must meet certain requirements to be in the PharmSTEP and DentSTEP programs.
At Shepherd, students will take courses such as biology, organic chemistry, physics and microbiology, officials said. Students then will go to WVU for further training and return to the Eastern Panhandle for clinical work, during which time they will see patients, Jacques said.
Shepherd and West Virginia University officials announced the new programs in the auditorium of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.
Dunlop said PharmSTEP and DentSTEP are a way to keep the area's "best and brightest" students in the Eastern Panhandle. STEP stands for Students in the Eastern Panhandle.
"We want good medical care in West Virginia," Dunlop said.
Robert M. D'Alessandri, vice president for health services at West Virginia University, said the two programs will allow educators to "grow our own" medical providers.
"Really, the future is ahead of us," D'Alessandri said.
Among those in attendance at the press conference Monday was Williamsport High School senior Kellyn Cole, the first student to be accepted into Shepherd's PharmSTEP program. The 17-year-old student, who will graduate from Williamsport High School on June 9, has been accepted at Shepherd University and has met the requirements for entry into PharmSTEP.
Cole, who was at the press conference with her parents, Dave and Pam Cole, said she has always been interested in a medical career.
"I'm really excited. It's an honor especially to be the first in the program," Cole said.
The programs are part of a continuing effort in past years to lure more health-care providers to the Eastern Panhandle. Last year, MedSTEP, which is similar to DentSTEP and PharmSTEP, began at Shepherd University.
At a site adjacent to City Hospital in Martinsburg, the building that will house the Eastern Division WVU Health Sciences Center is under construction.
The 36,650-square-foot building is where officials will help coordinate the PharmSTEP, DentSTEP and MedSTEP programs, said Jacques.
The facility also is where WVU officials hope to lure more physicians to the area.
Officials at the new center hope to attract potential doctors to the area by recruiting medical students from West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, W.Va.
The center would attract students who have completed one or two years of their college education, officials with the center have said. They would move to the center to finish the rest of their schooling, officials said.
The facility is expected to be completed this winter, Jacques said.