USI B/MD Scholar overcomes challenges to obtain dream job


For students pursuing a career in the medical field, the University of Southern Indiana Baccalaureate/Doctor of Medicine (B/MD) scholarship program offers an opportunity to earn a scholarship for their undergraduate studies and receive the best access to pre-medical advising. For Gunnar Lynch ’20, biology major, the program impacted every facet of his college experience.

Lynch considered many other in-state schools, but ultimately chose USI because it was where he felt most at home. Every person he met “seemed to take an interest in [him] as a person, and the campus was always so vibrant and alive every time [he] visited.”

Through the B/MD program, he gained access to everything needed to excel in his undergraduate program, including expert advising by professors who understand the requirements to successfully enter a graduate program and succeed, study sessions and practice exams to prepare for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), application assistance and mock interviews. Outside the classroom, the program provided him with a family. This support was crucial for Lynch who didn’t have the average college experience.

In the summer before his senior year, he was diagnosed with a rare medical condition called uveal melanoma, a form of eye cancer. This was not his first experience battling cancer as he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a common childhood blood cancer, at just 4 years old. He received treatment over the summer, and after seriously considering stepping away from his studies, decided to return in the Fall and said it was the best decision he could have made. “All my professors, advisors, mentors—every faculty and staff member I met—were completely and totally understanding and accommodating of my situation. I was able to focus on my education and my academic career while also focusing on my own healing—at no time did one of those things compromise the other.”

He credits USI’s faculty, staff and resources like Disability Resources for his ability to persevere through the challenging time and is grateful to the USI community. “I do not know what this situation would have been like had I attended another university where I could not have gotten the chance to know my professors or classmates so well,” he says. “The smaller class sizes and intimate settings offered by USI were exactly the environment I needed to focus on my studies while also focusing on my health.”

Dr. Becky Sparks-Thissen, Associate Professor of Biology and one of the faculty members Lynch credits for his continued success at USI, believes that the flexibility of the B/MD program is key to many of the recipients’ success in their undergraduate careers and beyond. “The B/MD scholarship provides support for students to pursue their academic interests in and outside of medicine. Students can major and/or minor in any subject while completing their requirements for medical school.”

The B/MD program has graduated 75 students since 2004 who are now in medical school or practicing physicians. The scholarship provides four years of tuition and a provisional seat the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Evansville campus.

Ultimately, Lynch decided not to pursue medical school and went on to attend the Physician Assistant (PA) program at the University of Evansville. During the two years of his PA program, Lynch participated in the Southwest Indiana Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholar Fellowship. Southwest Indiana AHEC is hosted at USI, and it works to improve health in rural and underserved communities by recruiting, educating and retaining healthcare professionals in those communities. Lynch also participated in AHEC programming in high school through the Health Sciences Education program at the Southern Indiana Career and Technical Center.

Jane Friona, executive director of Southwest Indiana AHEC, praised Lynch’s dedication and commitment to his healthcare career, “Gunnar has been an exemplary example of an AHEC success story. He engaged with AHEC in high school, stayed connected during his undergraduate years and then reengaged during PA school as an AHEC Scholar, which strengthened his knowledge and ability to provide high quality healthcare.”

This year, Lynch accepted a PA position at Shields, Shields, and Lally Ocular Oncology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the same practice that treated him his senior year for uveal melanoma. “Ever since I was a little boy with leukemia, I have always wanted to do something to help other patients going through similar situations,” he said about his new position. “Being a member of this team finally gives me the opportunity to do that.”

Applications for the B/MD program are open now, and the deadline to apply is November 17. Information about the program and how to apply can be found on the B/MD website.