by Vicki Hildner | University Communications

On Saturday, May 17, nearly 1,300 graduates walked across the dais on the University of Colorado Denver campus, accepted their diplomas and began the next chapter of their lives.

For seven of those graduates, the next step will take them to the Anschutz Medical Campus, in a continuation of a journey they began four years ago. They are the first cohort in the competitive BA/BS-MD program to graduate. 

CU Denver premed grads

“These students are smart and passionate about serving others,” said Charles Ferguson, PhD, director of the Health Professions Programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They understand this program has been a phenomenal opportunity and they have run with it. I have to run to keep up!”

The BA/BS-MD program targets high school students who qualify for college, but might not attend for a variety of reasons, including a lack of enriched learning opportunities in high school. By helping these students achieve their dream of becoming a physician, Ferguson believes the program will increase the number of doctors serving underrepresented populations in Colorado.

“The data is clear—students return to their roots to practice,” Ferguson said. “This is especially true of ethnic minorities and rural students. They will be going into parts of Colorado where there currently are few, if any, physicians. They have the power to be agents of change in the community.”

The first seven graduates of the BA/BS-MD program tell stories of personal struggle and triumph. Take note of their names, because four years from now, they hope to be graduating from the CU School of Medicine.

Leo Zukin

Backstory: Emigrated from Belarus with his family when he was 18 months old; his family came to United States looking for better career opportunities; speaks Russian; his father had been an engineer in Belarus and attended CU Denver School of Engineering & Applied Science after immigrating.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“It’s one of the most multidisciplinary careers. Physicians can take a leadership role in different settings like clinics or nonprofits. They can also work as researchers, and they can treat patients.”

What did you like about the BA/BS-MD Program?
“It allows flexibility with your college education. It prepared me for a medical career, but at the same time it allowed me to take classes outside the traditional sciences and math, so I took Spanish, computer programming and economics. You get so many different research and clinical opportunities at the Anschutz Medical Campus. You get great support from the advisors, Dr. Ferguson and Trishia Vasquez.”

Looking back and looking forward
“During college, I’ve had amazing clinical experiences serving refugees who face huge cultural and language gaps in health care. It was inspiring to help those in the same position my family was in years ago. Through these experiences, I worked with different clinics and organizations in Denver, and this has motivated me to practice medicine here in the future.”

Tamara Lhungay

Grew up in the tiny town of Hygiene, in Boulder County, Colo.; Tibetan, Jamaican and Dominican heritage; accepted at Dartmouth College and Duke University but decided that the BA/BS-MD program was the best path to medical school.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“Initially, I didn’t want to be a doctor because my mother is a physician, and I saw how hard she had to work. But I loved biology class and I believe in easing suffering. Then, during a high school summer program, I watched my first autopsy. Seeing how beautiful the human body is convinced me I should become a doctor.”

Why did you like the BA/BS-MD Program?
“It focuses on diversity which is so needed. There is a checklist of what you have to accomplish, so there is no wasted effort. Some undergraduate programs leading to medical school are only three years long, but I think four years is better because you have time to develop as a person while you are learning.”

Looking back and looking forward:
“I plan to practice rural medicine because I love humble, hardworking people. Being around them makes me a better person. I want to give back to the rural community where I grew up.”

Zane Sternberg

Backstory: Grew up in the southern Colorado town of La Veta, population 800; spent time volunteering in a large Veterans Administration facility because his dad worked there; encouraged by his high school counselor to apply to BA/BS-MD program.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“We had one family physician in town, so you can really see the need for doctors in a place like Huerfano County. In the city, it’s harder to see the effects one physician can have. In rural Colorado, you appreciate the impact one physician can have.”

Why did you like the BA/BS-MD Program?
“For someone who came from a rural high school and had challenges adjusting to college expectations, I sometimes questioned whether this was the right program, especially during honors organic chemistry! Going out to the Anschutz Medical Campus, attending seminars and being counseled by Trishia Vasquez and Dr. Ferguson helped me succeed and reminded me why I am doing this and what it’s all for.”

Looking back and looking forward:
“This program feels like an eight-year experience, not just four years. From day one, you are not just training for an MCAT score. You are training to become a physician. They take students who are high-performing and incentivize them to stay in Colorado, but they push us hard. I never felt this was a guarantee into medical school, but when I get to the Anschutz Medical Campus now, I will be prepared.”

Rachel Ancar

Backstory: Saw the advertisement for the BA/BS-MD program on; was also accepted at Colorado College; chose CU Denver because she couldn’t turn down opportunity to go directly from an undergraduate degree to medical school.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“After taking a pre-med class as a junior in high school, I felt strongly that I wanted to be a doctor. My excitement and appreciation for the field has only grown as I discover more about how I can apply my passions and interests in a clinical setting.”

Why did you like the BA/BS-MD Program?
“The classes and experiences that the program organized for us have pushed me to work harder than I thought I could. I was introduced to research through the program and this is an area that I have grown to love and will definitely integrate into my career as a physician.”

Looking back and looking forward:
“I grew up in Colorado and I love the state. I might leave for a little while to experience a different place, but I will come back to practice in Colorado. I’m particularly interested in personalized medicine because it offers so many opportunities for doctors to do a better job treating patients.”

Logan Hostetter

Backstory: Father is an air traffic controller and mother is a stay-at-home mom; had always been interested in science so his high school counselor encouraged him to apply to the BA/BS-MD program; calls himself a “first generation medical student” because no one in his family is involved in health care.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“There are so many paths you can follow as an MD. You can do clinical work, bench research, teach and do community outreach.”

Why did you like the BA/BS-MD Program?
“You get to meet incredibly diverse people, and everyone wants to help you succeed. I already have had the opportunity to do research on lung cancer, so I could apply my basic science knowledge to discover something that is new.”

Looking back and looking forward:
“I want to do research and practice medicine in Colorado because it’s such a great state. I’m particularly interested in working with people who have cancer, because that’s one of the fields where I could have the greatest impact.”

Anna Astashchanka

Backstory: Born in Belarus; had severe asthma, sleep apnea and other health issues as a child; arrived in the United States when she was eight years old after her mother won a lottery for a green card; speaks Russian.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“My parents are both chemists so I grew up with a deep appreciation for science and a desire to understand how everything around us works. I started volunteering at hospitals when I was 14, and grew to love not only the science behind medicine but the interpersonal culture that it fosters. I started working as a nursing assistant when I was 18 and knew, without a doubt, that this was the right path for me.”

Why did you like the BA/BS-MD Program?
“This program puts hard-working students together and everyone inspires one another. It provided a safety net in the scary endeavor of going to college. You get a tremendous amount of guidance and advice. Although all the students are interested in medicine, the wide variety of personal and professional experiences that each person brings to the table really expands our horizons and challenges our perceptions of our personal identities.

Looking back and looking forward:
“I shadowed at the CU Cancer Center, and I know that I will pursue oncology. But with the BA/BS-MD program I wasn’t forced to choose a major that improved my chance of going to medical school. I had the freedom to major in psychology. If you learn more about different areas, I think that makes you a better person and a better doctor. I plan to practice in Colorado serving the huge underserved Russian population. I want to pay all the privileges I have gotten in life forward.”

Brandon Sklar

Backstory: Parents always joked that his handwriting was so bad he might become a doctor; father provides housing for refugees from Nepal and Myanmar; CU Denver went from being his back-up school to his first-choice school after he learned about the BA/BS-MD program.

Why do you want to be a physician?
“The more I learn about the human body, the more I love it. I really enjoy problem solving with diagnoses. Also, I like building relationships with real people. Combining the medical challenges of diagnostics with building trust and relationships—no other profession has that.”

Why did you like the BA/BS-MD Program?
“I made so many connections through this program that I wouldn’t have been able to get by myself. I was able to shadow physicians, do research, meet medical students and talk to faculty. The program introduced us to the right people to help guide us. That was huge because we got a full dose of reality. It gave us insight into what medicine is in reality—not just on TV.”

Looking back and looking forward:
“Even though we had a promised spot at the CU School of Medicine, we did not slack off. We became the best physician candidates we could be. I can guarantee you that 10 years from now, I will be in Colorado practicing medicine.”

Published: May 19, 2014
Contact: [email protected]

Office of University Communications

CU Anschutz
Building 500

13001 East 17th Place

Room CG009

Aurora, CO 80045