Keeping dreams alive

October 14th, 2009

West Virginia University’s Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) is celebrating its 25th year of molding future medical and dental professionals.

Since 1985, the summer enrichment program has provided guidance to roughly 800 high school and undergraduate students from West Virginia.

The program admits a limited number of educationally or economically disadvantaged students annually, each having proven academic skill and an interest in a health career.

“I think one of the important things for us is that we are a rural area where there is a shortage of health professionals,” said project director Paul Clausell, M.D. “The aim of the program is to increase the number of health professionals in the state as well as to serve those who are from underrepresented backgrounds.”

HCOP has three components, each designed for students at different levels of study. The Preliminary Education (PE) component offers a six-week residential experience for recent high school graduates, designed to prepare rising freshman for a successful transition to college.

College classes are simulated through graded, noncredit coursework, and participants also learn life skills, including management of their time and finances.

Former PE student Rebecca Furby of Charles Town is now a sophomore at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown.

“HCOP gave me a pre-college experience, a wake-up call,” Furby said. “At first I thought college was all about education, but HCOP showed me that college is about education, life experiences and life management. I owe a lot to HCOP, and I am deeply grateful for those who have helped me succeed.”

The remaining two HCOP components, Facilitation Entry (FE) and Retention (RE), prepare students for the next two phases of their health education: applying to professional schools and tackling advanced coursework.

“HCOP was like having a backstage pass to the big event, which in my case was applying to pharmacy and medical school,” said Christopher Deskins, a 4th year medical student at WVU. Deskins said HCOP also provided a sample of what the programs would be like and the work required for each.

“As a result I felt well prepared for the journey,” he said.

HCOP began as the result of a federal grant that created similar programs around the country. The WVU program is one of the few that survived. The program is now supported by the West Virginia Legislature.

“Many colleges and universities were not able to provide the funding to continue various programs,” Clausell said. “Fortunately, our state and university have seen the benefit of maintaining the program and have funded us since 2000.”

In celebration of the program’s 25 years, current and former HCOP students, faculty and staff will be greeted at a tailgate-style gathering before the WVU-Marshall game Saturday (Oct. 17).

For information on HCOP see


For More Information:
Andrea Brunais, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087