GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For second-year Michigan State University College of Human Medicine student Crystal Juarez, every day marks another step in realizing a dream she has had since she was a kid growing up in Grand Rapids.

“I just saw the need here for more Spanish-speaking doctors, just someone people can relate to,” Juarez said.

Her path to medical school began at Grand Rapids Community College. Through the school’s Early Assurance of Admission program, she was able to receive additional counseling and other services aimed at preparing her for her undergraduate degree at Grand Valley State University and now MSU’s School of Human Medicine.

“Before I knew about this program, I dreamed of being a doctor someday but I never thought it would be possible,” Juarez said.

Another aim of the program is training future doctors from diverse backgrounds who can better serve their community.

“They can see the challenges and the ways they need to be addressed. It can also help their fellow students understand those challenges,” Dr. Norman Beauchamp Jr., dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, explained.

It’s all about providing a path for students to medical school. On Monday, officials from GRCC and MSU widened that path by establishing a similar program for students who want to attend MSU for their undergraduate work.

Students in the Early Assurance Program must meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • Be a first-generation college student;
  • Graduate from what the U.S. Department of Education considers a low-income high school;
  • Be eligible for Pell and other institutional need-based grants;
  • Graduate from an area where the population is underserved when it comes to health care;
  • Demonstrate an interest in high-need medical specialty areas.

“My goals for the future are to either being a family medicine doctor or emergency room doctor,” Juarez said.

Medical school is not easy for any student. Not only are classes tough, so is just getting in. Of the nearly 8,000 applicants to MSU College of Human Medicine last year, 190 were accepted.

Then there’s the cost of medical school. The GRCC program lessens the financial burden on many students with a lower cost community college education during their first couple of years of college.

But GRCC President Bill Pink said more needs to be done to lower the cost of medical school.

“I would say stay tuned on that conversation because there are some exciting things that I think this community will rise to and say, ‘Yeah, we get it. How can we come along side you?'” Pink said.

He’s convinced the effort will pay off in the future, especially when it comes to future doctors like Crystal Juarez.

“It would be great to work in my community here in Grand Rapids,” she said, “and just give back to a community that’s given me so much.”