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Successfully Training and Educating Pre-medical Students (STEPS)

  • Need: To increase the number of primary care providers in northeast Kentucky.
  • Intervention: STEPS provides support such as physician shadowing, mock interviews, and MCAT practice exams for regional students applying to medical school.
  • Results: 22 of the 28 total participants have been accepted into medical school.


In northeast Kentucky, almost half of the counties are considered Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) for primary medical care. In addition to low numbers of its students applying to medical school, the region has seen less than 30% of its applicants accepted into an in-state medical program.


In order to encourage local students to pursue medicine at Kentucky's three medical schools, the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center (NE KY AHEC) created the Successfully Training and Educating Pre-medical Students (STEPS) program in 2013. STEPS supports pre-medical students in the Appalachian region as they apply for medical school.

Through STEPS, the NE KY AHEC partners with the three medical schools in Kentucky, which provide annual county-level data on applicants and matriculants. STEPS is almost entirely self-funded by the NE KY AHEC.

Services offered

Pre-medical students attending college in northeast Kentucky or with a permanent address in the region are encouraged to apply for the STEPS program. Interested students must complete the following steps:

  • Be enrolled in certain math and science courses
  • Complete an online application
  • Write a personal essay no longer than 500 words
  • Submit a letter of recommendation from a professor
  • Complete an in-person interview

Approximately 10 applicants are chosen every year. (In 2017, the program received 17 applications.) Once accepted into the STEPS program, participants attend 12 in-person meetings, take an online Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) preparatory course, and receive:

  • Application process tutorial
  • MCAT reviews
  • MCAT practice exam(s)
  • Mock interviews
  • Physician shadowing in multiple specialties
  • Other activities that will help pre-medical students prepare for medical school


A total of 28 students have participated in STEPS, 25 of whom met all program requirements. Of these 25 participants, 22 have been accepted by a medical school (21 to schools in Kentucky and one to West Virginia); this success rate of 88% has exceeded the program's original goal of 70%.

On average, students' MCAT scores were 4.6 points higher than their practice scores in 2014. In 2015 and subsequent years, average scores were approximately 7.6 points higher than practice scores.

Program coordinators have presented STEPS and their county-level medical school data tracking initiative at the 2015 and 2017 National Rural Health Association annual conferences and the 2016 National AHEC Organization biennial conference.

For more information:

Gross, D.A., Mattox, L.C., & Winkleman, N. (2016). Priming the Physician Pipeline: A Regional AHEC's Use of In-State Medical School Data to Guide Its Health Careers Programming. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 27(4A), 8-18. Article Abstract


STEPS coordinators initially had difficulty filling the slots each year with students only from northeast Kentucky, so they have accepted some students from the regional university who actually live in other areas. This was not the case in 2017, however, so program coordinators are hopeful that word of mouth about the program's successes has begun to spread to all pre-medicine students, including a higher proportion of those who are originally from northeast Kentucky.

The online MCAT preparatory course costs $2,300 per student. While the NE KY AHEC receives a discount that reduces this figure to $1,300 per student, the remaining cost is still a significant barrier for many students. To overcome this barrier, the NE KY AHEC pays $1,000 per student, and each student pays the remaining $300.


The NE KY AHEC encourages other AHECs to track applicant and matriculant data by county or medical school. The data collection can help AHECs determine which counties have the fewest applicants and target their efforts to encourage more students to pursue medical careers.

The NE KY AHEC also offers the Summer Health Internship Program (SHIP), which places students in six-week paid internships in local health organizations. This program helps students gain experience in the healthcare field and encourages them to work in the region after graduation. To date, each of the six students who have completed both STEPS and SHIP have matriculated to a Kentucky medical school.

Contact Information

David A. Gross, Director
Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center

Health workforce pipeline

States served

Date added
November 29, 2016

Date updated or reviewed
November 15, 2017

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