“One of the greatest things about medicine is the fact that it is a very unique vocation in that it kind of marries this humanitarian side, this love for people with this love for science and learning …” he said. “Medicine is always evolving. It's always changing. New technologies are out every day.”
Laughter and smiles come frequently as the 22-year-old Terrell native talks about his journey from high school to college and, if all goes according to plan, medical school.
Oliver is a senior chemistry major at The University of Texas at Tyler and a part of the Joint Admission Medical Program, a statewide initiative designed to increase the number of high-quality, low-income students pursuing a medical education.
Oliver already has had one medical school interview at Texas A&M Health Science Center and he has several more lined up this fall. He expects to interview with all nine of the state's schools before the semester is over.
As a part of the JAMP program, Oliver is among a select group of students statewide who are receiving academic and financial support as they pursue their dream of attending medical school.
Since 2003, JAMP has provided scholarships, mentoring and personal assistance, hands-on experiences at medical schools and guaranteed admission to a Texas medical school for students who meet all program requirements, according to its website.
Applicants must meet certain academic and income requirements to even be considered for the program. These include: entering a Texas college or university the first fall semester after high school graduation; earning an ACT or SAT score equal to or better than the state average; and meeting a certain low-income requirement based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
As a college freshman, they must complete at least 27 hours of undergraduate credit with a 3.25 GPA or higher and a 3.25 GPA in science courses, according to the JAMP website. Students apply for the program their freshman year of college and are accepted for their sophomore year.
They must maintain a 3.25 GPA and numerous other requirements to remain in the program for their undergraduate years.
“The whole program basically was set up to meet the future needs of family practices … (and) other physicians in the state,” said Dr. Jim Koukl, UT Tyler's JAMP faculty adviser and assistant professor of biology. “And there's been a lot of people in the poorer socioeconomic groups that have this mindset, 'Well I can't afford to go to medical school.' But they have the talent to do so, so they give up.”
Koukl said the value of the program beyond its financial and academic support is the preview it gives students of medical school and the profession.
“They see it before they even get there and hopefully it gives them a psychological advantage of doing well, of giving them a jump start of giving them some excitement, if you will,” Koukl said.
For Oliver, the experience has been fantastic. After his sophomore year of college, he attended a six-week JAMP Camp at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
There, he and other JAMP students took anatomy and physiology and medical communications courses and shadowed doctors. Oliver shadowed a psychiatrist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. They also had access to the college for their work.
“They gave us badges … so we had full access to facilities, so we could go in there,” he said. “We could go in there at all hours. We could get out the cadavers and sit there and look at them. And they had all the organs.”
Oliver also received the honor of giving the keynote address at the JAMP Camp banquet because his peers selected him.
For now, Oliver is leaning toward focusing on internal medicine and pursuing a career in medicinal research. He will find out about medical school acceptance in December.
Although he's always been interested and had a gift for science, he said it was caring for his grandmother during his high school years that really solidified this career choice for him.
He started college as a biology major but switched to chemistry after taking organic chemistry and thriving in the course. In that class, he met Dr. Neil Gray, chemistry department chairman and professor. Gray said Oliver would come to his office after class under the pretense of needing help, but he quickly realized that Oliver really understood the material but was just fascinated by it and wanted to talk about it.
“He has been absolutely one of the best chemistry majors we have had,” Gray said. “He's one that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Oliver is a Welch Scholar doing research in the lab for Gray. His love for the subject is so much that his backup plan if he didn't make it into the JAMP program was to pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry. But for now, medical school is looking like more of a reality, something his professor is fine with.
“I'm all about sending people out to make the world a better place,” Gray said. “This kid could probably cure cancer someday or something.”
For Oliver, the success he has found is something that he has worked hard for but also something he attributes to the great support he has found around him.
“None of this would have been possible without the support of my family and most certainly this department and my professors in it,” he said. “They've done more for me than I can every repay.”