LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 12, 2022) — In August of 2018, the inaugural class of medical students with the University of Kentucky College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus arrived at Van Meter Hall at Western Kentucky University to receive their white coats – the first step of their journey toward a career in medicine.
UK Associate Professor of Psychiatry Todd Cheever, M.D. is a “lifer” at the UK College of Medicine and has witnessed dozens of White Coat Ceremonies in his time. But as associate dean for the UK College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus, this particular ceremony is one of his fondest memories.
“I love every White Coat Ceremony – let me be clear. I’ve been doing them a long time now,” he said. “But that one was extra special because it was our first-ever class.”
This Saturday, members of that first class will celebrate the past four years of hard work as they officially graduate with their medical degrees and prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives: residency. They’ll be joined by their fellow UK medical students from the Lexington campus and the Rural Physician Leadership Program in Morehead to receive their medical degrees at UK’s Singletary Center for the Arts.
As UK’s first four-year regional College of Medicine site, the Bowling Green Campus was developed to address a pressing need: more physicians, particularly in south central and Western Kentucky, to help improve access to health care for the Commonwealth. Through a partnership between UK, Med Center Health and WKU, the campus is able to take up to 30 new students each year.
This year’s graduating class comprises students who are going into emergency medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry and more. Many of these students will remain at UK, where they matched with UK HealthCare for their residencies.
“This is an incredibly exciting moment – for the students, for our partners in Bowling Green, and for us at UK HealthCare,” said Mark F. Newman, M.D., UK executive vice president for health affairs and a Western Kentucky native. “At UK, we are dedicated to fulfilling the vision of training Kentuckians in Kentucky to practice in Kentucky. We’re proud to be leading the way in the Commonwealth to help nurture and develop the health care workforce of tomorrow.”
Though its students come from all over Kentucky, the majority of them hail from rural communities in the region.
“That’s a good thing – we’re meeting the mission,” Cheever said. “Having students from this region, where they can train close to their families and support systems, is very important.”
Frankfort native Josh Karsner is one of the 26 medical students graduating from the Bowling Green Campus this year. After working as an EMT in Boyle County and a scribe in UK HealthCare’s Emergency Department, he decided to pursue a medical degree and focus on emergency medicine. Upon graduation, Karsner will remain at UK for his residency.
“As a born-and-raised Kentuckian, staying in the Bluegrass State for my medical education was a top priority for me,” Karsner said. “When I was applying to UK, I saw the new campus in Bowling Green as a great opportunity to pioneer something new while receiving the same level of education as the students in Lexington.”
For some students, like Bowling Green native Caitlyn Galloway, the chance to earn her medical education in her small, close-knit community was especially appealing. She says she was “riveted” when she first learned that UK would be opening up the College of Medicine regional campus in her hometown. Like Karsner, Galloway will also continue her training at UK as she joins the health care team for residency.
“I would recommend this experience to anyone,” she said.
This class faced a number of challenges on their way to earning their degrees. After completing their first two years of coursework, students prepare for clinical rotations in year three. However, the COVID-19 pandemic began right when these students were about to begin in-person patient care… and right when medical centers across the country began shutting down some medical services and restricting visitors.
“To delay that would have delayed their graduation from med school,” Cheever said. “We couldn’t do that. It was challenging to find clinical replacements when COVID first started… we had to be creative in how they completed their mandatory clinicals.”
While they worked through the challenges of in-person clinical learning, the students also stepped up in a big way to help their community get vaccinated during the pandemic. When The Medical Center at Bowling Green launched the biggest COVID-19 vaccine clinic in their area, UK-Bowling Green medical students volunteered hours of their time to recruit and register patients and give vaccine injections to the public.
Then, in December 2021, the Bowling Green community was one of several Western Kentucky communities devastated by a deadly tornado outbreak. The students sprang into action, joining local EMS for search and rescue and collecting much-needed supplies and distributing them to people in need.
“All of the students in this class have a big heart for community service,” Cheever said.
As his time in Bowling Green comes to a close, Karsner reflects on his favorite memory from the past four years – when he and all his fellow classmates got together for a home-cooked meal in the student lounge the night before exams. It’s an example of the type of closeness and camaraderie that wouldn’t be possible with a large class.
“Not only did we reduce a little stress this way, but we got to really know one another and develop deeper friendships because of it,” Karsner said. “For those considering Bowling Green, I would say this: If you want to get the same level of education those in Lexington receive with the added benefit of smaller local class sizes and a truly close-knit community among students, faculty, and staff, then Bowling Green is where you want to be.”
“We have something special going on here,” Cheever said. “Our students know one another, not just in their class, but the classes ahead of them. They know their faculty very well. It’s just been an encouraging environment to study medicine and become a doctor. There is a family atmosphere here.”
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.