MC students complete first steps toward medical degreeApril 25, 2024

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Lourdes Acosta (left), Abigail Hightower (right)

West Texas is home to highly successful petroleum, natural gas, cotton and livestock industries. However, residents of rural West Texas communities face a wide range of mounting health care challenges. The same rural lifestyle that draws many to the region can make it difficult to receive appropriate medical care.

Two Midland College (MC) students—Lourdes Acosta and Abigail Hightower—have plans to help alleviate the shortage of healthcare practitioners in West Texas. Both of these young women will graduate from MC with an Associate of Science degree on May 10, and they have already been accepted into medical school at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM), where they will attend after completing a year of concentrated science and math classes at the University of North Texas (UNT).

Acosta and Hightower have spent the past two years at Midland College in the Primary Care Pathway Program (PCPP), a partnership among MC, UNT, TCOM and Midland Health.

Students in the program spend three years in undergraduate school (two years at MC and one year at UNT) and then four years in medical school at TCOM. During the program, they also observe and perform clinical rotations in conjunction with Midland Health.

PCPP students have the opportunity to be accepted into medical school without taking the expensive and difficult medical school entrance exam (MCAT). Based on grades at MC and an extensive interview process, select students, like Acosta and Hightower, are accepted into TCOM before they graduate from Midland College. After they complete the required year at UNT, they immediately transfer to TCOM.

“I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl,” Acosta said. “I had a lot of allergies when I was a child, and I was in and out of clinics. I grew up in Alpine, so we had to travel to Odessa or El Paso to see specialists.

“For most people in Alpine, having a doctor’s appointment means that they are away from a job or school for at least a whole day. It can also be expensive because there is the cost of gas to travel, and many times it means spending the night in a hotel.

“When I graduate from medical school, my goal is to complete a residency in obstetrics/gynecology and then settle in Alpine so that I can help the residents of Alpine and the surrounding area in far West Texas.”

Acosta said that when she graduated from high school, she was accepted into several colleges and universities including Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Angelo State University.

“My primary care physician in Alpine, Dr. Billings, told me about the PCPP program at Midland College, and the smaller school atmosphere appealed to me,” she said.

Acosta is the daughter of Virginia and Enrique Acosta. At Alpine High School, she was a cheerleader and participated in the track and golf programs. She also worked part-time at McDonald’s, first in the front of the restaurant and later in the office helping with the books.

When she goes back to Alpine during school breaks, she still works at the restaurant.

Abigail Hightower is the daughter of Jennifer and Christopher Hightower. A 2022 Midland High School graduate, she has actually been taking health-related courses since she was in the 10th grade. Hightower participated in the Midland College/Midland ISD Health Sciences College and Careers Academy for three years, and through that program she received certifications as a Nurse Aide, Patient Care Technician, EKG Technician and Phlebotomist.

“I loved every single minute that I was in the healthcare classes, and I knew that I wanted to go further,” she said. “When I heard about the Primary Care Pathway Program at Midland College and learned that I could graduate with a medical degree in seven years and possibly be accepted into medical school without taking the MCAT exam, it was really a ‘no brainer.’”

After high school, Hightower worked with Sharing Hands a Respite Experience (SHARE), a local nonprofit organization that provides support services and activities for families with special needs children. She still works with the program and also serves as an occasional private nanny. She volunteers at the MCRC We Are the World Day Camp whenever they have special events.

She said that her plan is to specialize in pediatrics.

“My younger brother has special needs, and I grew up around physicians and watching them take care of him,” Hightower explained.

As PCPP students, Acosta and Hightower have already been introduced to rural healthcare. In 2023 and again in 2024, they participated in TCOM’s Rural Osteopathic Medical Education program in the border communities of Presidio and Terlingua and surrounding towns of Marathon and Sanderson.

“That was an eye-opener for me,” Hightower said. “There’s such a tremendous need for healthcare in these areas. The people were so grateful for our services.”

Acosta and Hightower did not know each other before they entered Midland College, but they soon became close friends and are now roommates living in O’Shaughnessy Hall, one of the MC residence halls. They also plan to live together next year in Denton while they are at UNT.

“I was so nervous when I first got to Midland,” Acosta said. “The very first class I had at MC was Technical Writing with Dr. Brown. Abigail was also in the class. I had previously met Abigail briefly at New Student Orientation. She was a familiar face, so I sat beside her. I think that’s when we first became friends.”

“Lourdes and I immediately discovered that we had the same interests, and now she’s like a sister to me,” Hightower said. “I lived at home the first year I was attending Midland College, but at the beginning of this school year, I moved into the dorm and started rooming with Lourdes. Our friendship has only strengthened since we’ve been living together.”

Both young women graduated from high school with 4.0 GPAs, and have continued that high standard of academic excellence at MC. Hightower has maintained a 4.0 GPA while at MC, and Acosta currently has a 3.95 GPA. They are active in Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and the MC Chemistry Club. Their favorite class at MC was Anatomy and Physiology and they credit Biology professors Joseph Schenmkan and Shawna Lopez with giving them a wonderful basic knowledge in Biology and guiding them through their first steps in becoming physicians.

In two weeks, Lourdes Acosta and Abigail Hightower will graduate from Midland College and begin the next phase of their journeys. It is no doubt that their dedication to their studies and their desire to eventually serve the residents of West Texas will be their guiding light as they continue their pursuit of a medical degree.

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