The Penn State College of Medicine Nittany Lion statue is seen surrounded by plants in the central courtyard of the College in June 2016.

Neurosurgery 3+7 Accelerated MD Pathway

Building a Pathway to Neurosurgery

The Department of Neurosurgery has implemented a 3+7 accelerated pathway that allows students to complete medical school in three years, followed by seven years of neurosurgery residency training at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Students will have the opportunity to save one year of tuition and enter practice one year earlier.

Matriculating students who are interested in pursuing a career in neurosurgery have the opportunity to apply to this pathway on the Penn State College of Medicine secondary application.

After screening and interviewing with members of the department, the accepted student will be placed in an accelerated pathway.

The Neurosurgery Accelerated Pathway at Penn State College of Medicine offers exceptional students many opportunities, including:

  • Reduction of the length of medical school by one year and earlier entry into a career in neurosurgery.
  • A scholarship equivalent to one year of tuition.
  • Focused mentorship in neurosurgery and early clinical exposure.
  • Residency training in the Penn State College of Medicine Neurosurgery Residency program.

Students accepted into this pathway are consistently evaluated throughout their medical education, and their acceptance into the residency can be rescinded should they fail to maintain acceptable performance levels.

Pathway Details

What is NS-APPS exactly?

NS-APPS is one of several accelerated curricula at Penn State College of Medicine that is designed to attract mature, dedicated learners who already have a strong personal commitment to pursue a career in neurosurgery. The curriculum is focused to advance the student toward a neurosurgery residency at Penn State Health.

How many students do you accept each year?

We accept only one student each year at this point.

How can I finish medical school in only three years?

The curriculum takes advantage of several longitudinal experiences during which the student, once a week over several weeks, completes what traditionally would take place in a block clerkship experience, alongside concurrent block coursework and traditional block clerkships.

What does the curriculum involve?

The curriculum is designed as an individualized and intensive three-year medical school experience that will allow the student to graduate from medical school in three years, rather than four, and prepare them to enter the Penn State Health neurosurgery residency program. The program is divided into three phases: 

Phase 1 (Year 1): Core subjects are coupled with a longitudinal neurosurgery research elective and mentorship during the first six months and a longitudinal Career Confirmation Elective (CCE) rotation during the last 17 weeks. The student participates in an afternoon outpatient clinic once a week and a two-hour Evidence-Based Medicine in Neurosurgery conference once a week. This is different than the Career Exploration and Synthesis options in Phase II and is followed by:

Summer clinical electives: The electives include two weeks of neuro-ophthalmology, two weeks of physical medicine and rehabilitation and four weeks of neuroradiology. There is one week for summer vacation.

Phase I (Year 2): A continuation of the core coursework, including neural and behavioral sciences, with a concurrent 6.5-month longitudinal Family and Community Medicine clerkship once a week.

Phase II and III (Year 3): Phase II begins the core clinical clerkships and a concurrent longitudinal Emergency Medicine Acting Internship once a week. The surgical clerkship is designed for the student to select neurosurgery as their surgical elective, immediately followed by a two-week neurosurgery elective clerkship, thus creating a four-week neurosurgery clerkship experience. A six-week period of study for Boards is followed by a four-week acting internship in neurosurgical critical care and a four-week elective of the student’s choosing. The year ends with a humanities course and other requirements.

What are the advantages of this approach?

For the student, the advantage is that you pay only for three years of medical school and finish one year early. You are provided with a scholarship to pay for the additional year of medical school. If at any point you transition to a four-year curriculum, this scholarship would be transferred to a loan. Another benefit is that you would not have to participate in “away” clerkships at other medical schools and would not have to interview at other neurosurgery residency programs. This saves thousands of dollars in travel, housing and other costs. You also would not have to move after medical school, again saving money and, for a student with a spouse or family, the challenges of moving to another location. Finally, you would enter your neurosurgery residency knowing the faculty, your fellow residents and the institutional structure and operational activities, and would not have to begin anew with another set of colleagues and institution.

For the Department of Neurosurgery, the faculty can work with you over a three-year period to personally guide you through the beginning of your neurosurgery career. This period also allows the faculty to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your “fit” both for a neurosurgery career and within the department. The department’s goal is to recruit and train the best neurosurgery residents possible.

Will I have the stamina to participate in this program?

Only you can answer that question. You are probably aware of the many physical and mental demands of a neurosurgical career. Neurosurgery is one of the most demanding specialties in medicine and requires a dedication, stamina and resilience to not only complete your training but to practice neurosurgery for the rest of your career. We believe that the dedicated student can complete this curriculum in the time allotted. You will also be assigned a department mentor who will meet with you periodically to assess your progress, assist and advocate for you if necessary and help arrange the resources for you to succeed. The department will also provide resources and mentorship to enable you to successfully pursue your medical student research project in the department or, if necessary, with another department within the institution.

If you are not certain you can sustain the rigors of both medical school and the accelerated program, you may enter the program any time after you are accepted to the College of Medicine, up to the end of the first semester of your first year of medical school. However, remember that the department may already have accepted a student by that time.

What if I decide that neurosurgery isn’t for me, or that the Penn State Neurosurgery Department isn’t where I want to do my residency?

Once accepted into the program, the chair of the Neurosurgery Department and you will sign an agreement to enter the accelerated program. The department is investing a lot of energy and time in your training, and the expectation is that you will continue toward your neurosurgery residency here at Penn State Health. However, we recognize that after you start, your career choice could change, or we may no longer be your choice for residency training. If either of these situations occurs, the agreement provides that you would transition back to the traditional four-year medical school curriculum; again, your scholarship for the fourth year would be converted to a loan. You would complete your medical school education and apply for the residencies of your choosing as anyone would during their fourth year. As a practical matter, without taking the additional fourth year, it would be almost impossible to obtain neurosurgery residency training at another institution since you would not have completed any acting internships in neurosurgery at that point.

Why is Penn State Neurosurgery such an outstanding program in which to train?

Penn State Neurosurgery is truly unique among neurosurgery residency programs because its neurosurgical faculty are all either fellowship trained or nationally and internationally renowned for their expertise in their area of neurosurgical focus. The residency program offers training in every area of neurosurgery – vascular and endovascular (including carotid artery surgery), oncology, pediatrics, spine (including complex spine and deformity correction), peripheral nerve, functional, epilepsy, pain, stereotactic radiosurgery, endoscopy and minimally invasive neurosurgery, trauma and neurocritical care. Several enfolded fellowship opportunities offer our residents the chance to complete focused training within the residency that allows them to achieve special national certification in one or more areas of focus.

In addition, Penn State Neurosurgery is linked to the University Hospital in Perth, Australia, where one senior resident each year is selected to spend a year as a part of their residency. Residents who have participated in this option have greatly appreciated the opportunity for greater independence that it provides and return much more mature and confident in their skills. 

Penn State Neurosurgery is also nationally recognized for its focus on residency education. We set aside a full day each week for resident education, including a number of conferences on various topics. We are especially proud of our focus on resident education. Our residents have all gone on to high-performing jobs in both academia and the private sector and are well-respected nationally.

Penn State Neurosurgery is also highly ranked nationally in national research funding. The department has many research opportunities, and the resources, for residents interested in pursuing research. The department houses a large laboratory devoted to iron metabolism and its impact on a variety of neurological diseases; a vascular lab devoted to studies of aneurysms and other vascular entities; and a Center for Neural Engineering at University Park directed by one of our neurosurgical faculty. We presently rank near the top 10 neurosurgery departments in the U.S. in National Institutes of Health research funding. Residents have also gone on to pursue advanced degrees in research, public health, health care leadership and other pursuits.

Application Process

To be interviewed for NS-APPS, you must first apply and be accepted into the MD Program at Penn State College of Medicine.

After acceptance into the College of Medicine, eligible students must complete a separate NS-APPS application.

The ideal candidate is a self-directed, mature learner with a strong academic background who possesses good organizational skills and the ability to multitask, and who has demonstrated a strong commitment to neurosurgery as a career.

A selection committee will make the final selection in late May regarding acceptance to the College of Medicine and the overall MD program. Once a commitment has been made to attend Penn State College of Medicine, a secondary application to NS-APPS will be reviewed on a rolling basis. However, the final selection will not occur until May by the NS-APPS subcommittee.

If you are a prospective Penn State College of Medicine medical student with an interest in the Neurosurgery Accelerated Pathway, email NSAPPS@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

Pathway Faculty

Director

Mark S. Dias, MD, FAAP, FAANS
Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics
Vice Chair for Education
Department of Neurosurgery
Mail Code EC110
Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
30 Hope Drive, Building A
P.O. Box 859
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-4541

Email: NSAPPS@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

A portrait photograph of Dr. Mark S. Dias in front of a professional photo background.
Mark S. Dias, MD, FAAP, FAANS

Faculty

  • Dawit Aregawi, MD

  • Yanqiu Che, PhD

  • Kevin Cockroft, MD

  • James Connor, PhD, Vice Chair of Research in Neurosurgery

  • Mark Dias, MD, Vice Chair of Education in Neurosurgery; Director; Member 3+7 Steering Committee

  • Elana Farace, PhD

  • Andrew Geronimo, PhD

  • Michael Glantz, MD

  • Kimberly Harbaugh, MD

  • Robert E. Harbaugh, MD; Chair, Department of Neurosurgery; Senior Vice President of the Penn State Health Academic Medical Group; Member 3+7 Steering Committee

  • Mark Iantosca, MD

  • Rong Jin, PhD

  • Diana Jho, MD

  • Paul Kalapos, MD

  • JP Kelleher, MD

  • Sang Lee, PhD

  • Guohong Li, PhD

  • James McInerney, MD; Residency Director; Member 3+7 Steering Committee

  • Mark Meadowcroft, PhD

  • Haejoe Park, MD

  • Stephanie Patton, PhD

  • Elizabeth Proctor, PhD

  • Timothy Reiter, MD

  • Elias Rizk, MD; Residency Assistant Program Director; Member 3+7 Steering Committee

  • Michael Sather, MD

  • Scott Simon, MD

  • Brad Zacharia, MD

  • Chris Zacko, MD

Contact Us

Additional questions and inquiries can be made to:

Mark S. Dias, MD, FAAP, FAANS
Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics
Vice Chair for Education 
Department of Neurosurgery
Mail Code EC110
Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
30 Hope Drive, Building A
P.O. Box 859
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-4541

Email: NSAPPS@pennstatehealth.psu.edu

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