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Published May 23, 2019
Hunter McCurdy was in his second semester at the University of Wyoming at Casper when he learned about research opportunities he could have as an undergraduate through the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Wyoming IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Program.
Intrigued by the research on parasitology being conducted by UW-Casper faculty members Mara Motriuk-Smith and Scott Seville, McCurdy began working on research projects in summer 2015. In 2016, he began working with UW scientists Florence Teulé-Finley and Patrick Johnson on spider silk proteins, research he continued until his graduation with a bachelor’s degree in physiology from UW in May 2017.
Now, the Natrona County High School graduate -- who began his higher education at Casper College -- is ready to take a major step toward a medical career. He has been accepted to the prestigious Yale School of Medicine, where he begins his studies this fall.
“One thing I have learned from this application process is that it doesn't matter where you are from or where you went to school. If you try hard enough, you can go anywhere,” McCurdy says. “I'm grateful for my time at Casper College and the University of Wyoming; I had an amazing time and great education, and I met the amazing teachers who helped me out so much.”
McCurdy says his research experiences through INBRE in Casper and then on the main UW campus were instrumental in his admission to the Yale School of Medicine.
“I am sure my research experience was integral to my career pursuits; I was asked regularly about my research at medical school interviews,” he says. “What I didn't expect with research is how it helped me in school. Research helped connect what I learned about in class and read in textbooks with the real world. Especially the way my mentors, Dr. Motriuk-Smith and Dr. Teulé-Finley, taught me in the lab, I was able to draw connections between the classroom and what I was doing in my research, which provided a deeper and richer level of understanding.”
UW is one of 23 states and Puerto Rico funded by the NIH Institutional Development Award INBRE Program to enhance biomedical research capacity; expand and strengthen the research capabilities of biomedical faculty; and provide access to biomedical resources for promising undergraduate students. UW’s program includes a collaboration with the state’s community colleges. Through a competitive selection process, INBRE awards transition fellowships to Wyoming community college students who transfer to UW to pursue bachelor’s degrees in biomedical-related disciplines.
McCurdy received his INBRE transition fellowship in 2016 and says his movement from Casper College, to UW-Casper and then to UW’s main campus was smooth, with quality instruction, advising and research opportunities all along the way.
“I was well-prepared and had ample support from UW to help the transition,” he says. “I had a great experience at UW. I took so many amazing classes, and I liked all of my teachers. I also made great friends along the way. Both at UW-Casper and UW’s main campus, the teachers are fantastic, and the facilities are great.”
Many UW physiology majors go on to graduate or professional school, including medical studies. McCurdy says his UW classes were “incredibly helpful” in his preparations to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and he had been accepted to four other medical schools before he learned of his acceptance at Yale. Still, he was “ecstatic and surprised” when he received the news.
“Reading horror stories of students with perfect GPA and MCAT scores, who interview at 10-plus top schools but get no acceptances, it makes someone question if they have what it takes to get into medical school,” he says. “I had already experienced the relief of that first acceptance, but it was extremely exciting nonetheless. There was a level of gratification that all the work I put into applying was worth it.”
After graduation from UW, McCurdy worked as a medical scribe in the emergency department at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for about nine months. That experience has him thinking about pursuing a career in emergency medicine, but he’s not yet certain about a specialty.
“I’m definitely biased toward emergency medicine, although I also like surgery, so maybe trauma surgery. I like how in depth internal medicine is as well, so I would like working as a hospitalist or cardiologist,” he says. “There are certain residency programs and fellowship programs that I am interested in where you are trained in two fields, like emergency medicine and internal medicine, and you work by splitting your time between those two.”
Is there a chance he’ll return to Wyoming to practice?
“I do see myself returning to Wyoming, provided I pick a specialty where I can find work here,” he says. “There is a need for more physicians in rural areas, like Wyoming, and I would like to do what I can to fill that need.”
What would he say to Wyoming students who have high aspirations, such as careers as physicians, about attending in-state institutions?
“I would tell Wyoming students that Wyoming schools are fantastic. For the price, I doubt anyone could find better schools,” he says. “I attended these schools because I wanted to, and I don't believe that choice held me back at all, but rather helped me. With the right mindset, going to college can only open doors for you.”