Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP): Podcast Episode 2


The Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP) is a 15-week medical school preparatory program focused on preparing premed students for success in medical school.

Episode 2 - Medical Education Readiness Program Transcript

Milena Garcia: Kevin Hi.

Kevin Niessen: Hi, Milena, how are you today.

Milena Garcia: Very well, how are you

Kevin Niessen: Good just sitting here in my library, full of titleless leather bound books, reading, reading about medicine.

Milena Garcia: How convenient. I am calling you to ask some questions about our medical education program.

Kevin Niessen: Very excited for it. Thank you for having me here today.

Milena Garcia: Great. Let's actually start with your introduction, why don't you take a couple minutes to tell us who you are.

Kevin Niessen: I don't know if it'll take a couple of minutes, but my name is Kevin Niessen and I work in the admissions department at Ross University School of Medicine. And one of my roles in the admissions department is to work as the coordinator for the Medical Education Readiness Program, or the MERP program, which is what I'm here to talk about today.

What is the Medical Education Readiness Program?

Milena Garcia: Great, then we appreciate you taking the time to join us. Tell us what MERP is and how are the students selected for it.

Kevin Niessen: Sure. MERP is a 15 week medical school preparatory program that's focused on preparing a pre med students for success in medical school. So when a student applies to Ross University School of Medicine, our admissions committee will review their application. And they would either offer them direct admission into our medical program, deny their application or offer them a spot in the program. So I may see some kind of potential in their application, but there's something in their file that might Indicate to them that they would benefit from a little bit more preparation before going into the first semester.

Milena Garcia: When did that program get started?

Kevin Niessen: It's been around. It actually started the first semester that I started working at Ross University, which was fall of 2004. So right when I started working here. I was the coordinator for the MERP program right from the get go. And I've been doing that ever since. So 16 years of preparing thousands of students for success at Ross University.

How long is the medical school readiness program and where is MERP located?

Milena Garcia: And where's the program located and how long is it?

Kevin Niessen: It's a 15 week program, so that’s the same length as a semester at Ross University. We have two locations, actually the main location is in Miramar Florida. That's where we do live in-person lectures. COVID-19 has postponed that a little bit, when we have gone online for the past two semesters. But when we are live, we have two campuses. The main campus in Miramar Florida, which is right in between Fort Lauderdale and Miami in South Florida. And that's where the live lectures take place and we have a second location for our Canadian students that's in Toronto. So they attend via a remote feed, a two-way feed where the students can watch the live lectures that are taking place in Miramar and they're able to interact and take part in those lectures through that two-way feed.

Milena Garcia: How many start dates per year?

Kevin Niessen: Just as the medical program at Ross University, there are three start dates for MERP. They run off the cycle from the medical school. So they start a month earlier and the end a month earlier so that students when they're done with MERP they can go directly into the medical program at Ross, without having to wait a full semester. So the semesters start December, April and August.

Milena Garcia: What's the typical class size of the different term starts?

Kevin Niessen: Yeah, I mean, they're different from year to year, and from semester to semester when the program started it was actually pretty small back in 2004 but the typical class sizes. Now we probably range anywhere from from 80 and we've had classes to as large as 160 students. Typical probably being somewhere in between the 80 and 160. But the August session is always the largest of the three, and April is probably the smallest of the three.

How different are MERP courses from pre-med courses and how are students graded?

Milena Garcia: And I know I always get asked this when the students get selected for MERP and they look at the course descriptions and they say “But I already took this class.” Can you cover what the courses are and how they're different from the pre med courses that the students may have already taken?

Kevin Niessen: Yeah. So there's four lecture-based fundamental science courses and MERP is about 50 hours of lecture for each subject. The main subjects being medical anatomy, medical biochemistry, medical physiology and medical microbiology, and they're definitely going to be more in-depth than the courses that are taught at an undergraduate level. Maybe 75 -80% the pace of medical school. But yeah, definitely not your typical undergraduate science courses, are, it's going to be a lot more detailed. It's going to be a lot more rigorous than anything that students have experienced coming in.

Milena Garcia: And how are the students graded during the program?

Kevin Niessen: The majority of their grade is going to come from too many exams and a final exam that are given one-third of the way, two-thirds of the way and then at the end of the semester, and that's the bulk of their grades, but we have 10 quizzes that are spread out over the semester, which make up a small part of the students grade. But they're really there so students can have constant evaluation. We don't want them to wait until the first quiz to find out that they're not keeping up with the material. So we have those regular assessments and then they're also broken up into small groups to prepare them for some of the problem based learning that they will do in medical school.  We get a small part of their grade is based on those small group sessions.

What are the main objectives of the medical school readiness Program?

Milena Garcia: And you know, I worked with you for so long. I'm also a strong believer of the program because I've seen the success in the student success through the program, but can you name some of the major benefits that you see that the students get by going through our program?

Kevin Niessen: Right, I would say probably four main objectives for the program. The first being, obviously, to give students strong training to prepare them for the basic sciences of medical school. In addition to that, we want to provide a learning environment where students are guided by instructors on how to optimize study and performance strategies, and provide regular assessment. And then finally, which is kind of an overlooked objective, but helping students to build a strong social network going into medical school. And those students who are in MERP usually have their study groups. They have their support system going into med school. And I think that's that's helpful for them, making the adjustment when they do go down to Barbados.

Milena Garcia: Yeah, that's a really good point to bring up, thanks for saying that. It's something that I often hear from the current students or the incoming students into first semester of medical school. I do.

Kevin Niessen: Too. Yeah, the other students are always pretty jealous of the markers.

What’s a typical day like for Medical school readiness program students?

Milena Garcia: If they come in with their group already pretty tight. What’s the typical day like for students while they're going through the program?

Kevin Niessen: Students are going to have two lectures per day. When we're live on campus those lectures start at 8:00 and 10:00 am so they'll be out of their mandatory lectures at around noon every day. But in addition to those mandatory lectures, there's usually some kind of a supplemental session that's held in the afternoon. The Times for those afternoon sessions can  vary a little bit from day to day, and from week to week. But those could be an academic success session review session or a small group session. So two lectures per day out of lecture at noon and then usually something else scheduled in the afternoon, depending on the day

Milena Garcia: And besides the sun and humidity in Florida and the snow in Toronto. Is it the same schedule for both of the classes?

Kevin Niessen: Yep, same schedule even one more online as we are now during COVID there are the lectures are still mandatory so students have to be at the live lecture, no matter where they are in the country we push them back a couple of hours for the West Coast, folks. They still have to be logged on to their computer and at those lectures at 10 o'clock eastern time and noon Eastern Time.

Milena Garcia: The main goal of the program, like you said at the beginning is to make sure that the students are successful. Can you maybe give some examples of what kind of support both academic and psychological do we give the students while they're going through the program?

Kevin Niessen: There is a big focus on Academic Support in the MERP program. In addition to the teaching of this very rigorous material, there is a lot of focus on giving the students the help that they might need. Helping them to develop time management techniques, test taking strategies, note taking strategies, memorization strategies, data interpretation, all skills that students are going to need to have going into med school. There's a pretty big focus on making sure students are comfortable in those areas.

Who teaches the MERP Program?

Milena Garcia: Who are the faculty teaching the program?

Kevin Niessen: So the professor's for MERP all have MDs or PhDs in their field. They all have done extensive research and have published numerous peer reviewed manuscripts and journals. So the faculty is very experienced, very knowledgeable in their subject matter. But in addition to the faculty members. We also have teaching fellows. And the teaching fellows at MERP are usually former Ross students. So they've already completed their MD and they're just waiting to go into residency and they just want to make good use of that time. Oftentimes they've gone through MERP as well. So they're familiar with the program. And they want to do something to give back to those students who are coming into the program. So they'll work as teaching fellows and they're the ones who are going to run the lecture, reviews, provide practice questions for students, hold office hours, help with the guidance that they might need when they're working in the dry anatomy lab. So they're there, they're really the first line of support for students.

Where do students in the Medical education readiness Program live?

Milena Garcia: What about for the students. Where do they live while they're in Florida or under normal circumstances, in Toronto? 

Kevin Niessen: Yes. Students are responsible for finding their own housing accommodations while they're in MERP. But we do help them by giving them access to a database that we've compiled. That database is actually accessible through the MERP website if you go on Under student resources, there's a link on there where students can go, they can look at pictures and descriptions and prices. There's a map so they can kind of see where these places are located near campus. And they'll have that reserved and ready for them when they arrive in South Florida. And that’s the same as well in Toronto. There's actually some limited amount of student housing. So students who want to live in a dorm where the program is held those units are rented out on the first come first serve basis, but in addition to those on campus housing in Toronto. We also have a housing database for that area as well.

Milena Garcia: That's the list of questions I have for you, any last-minute suggestions or advice to our future Rossies?

Kevin Niessen: I would say if you apply to Ross and you're offered a spot in the MERP program just to really think of it as an opportunity. This program has a long track record of success. I hear over and over from students who have gone through this program how much they've benefited from attending. They say “I am so glad that I went through that program, that really helped me to be a better student and be much better prepared to going into Ross University.”

Milena Garcia: I echo that been my same experience as well and Kevin. One last question for you. How many of those books behind you have you really read?

Kevin Niessen: Well, there's no titles on the side. I couldn't tell you off the top of my head, which ones I've read. Those green ones, the red ones over here.

Milena Garcia: Kevin. Thank you so much for taking your time. I really appreciate it. I think this was a good opportunity for the future Rossies to learn a little bit more about this great program, the four-month MERP program that we have. Again, medschool and it gives the students a chance to be accepted directly into our medical program. So thank you very much. I appreciate you taking your time.

Kevin Niessen: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.