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ASU professor's lab provides pipeline to medical school

Shane Batie
July 22, 2014

There’s no guarantee that undergraduate students who conduct research in the lab of Arizona State University professor Peter Jurutka will have an advantage if they decide to apply for admission to medical school. But based on Jurutka’s track record, working under his guidance certainly doesn’t seem to hurt.

Of the 80 students accepted for 2012 admission to the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, four were recent ASU graduates who participated in research projects in Jurutka’s lab on ASU’s West campus. That’s a full five percent of admitted students. All four are now third-year medical students at the U of A.

Jurutka is an associate professor in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the core college on the West campus. He researches a variety of health-related biochemical topics, with a focus on vitamin D, nutrition and cancer.

“Much of the research in my lab is driven by undergraduate students,” Jurutka said. “They value the opportunity to become involved in a meaningful research experience.”

Dozens of students have worked with Jurutka during his decade at ASU. Their work regularly results in their becoming co-authors of papers published in refereed academic journals and presented at national conferences.

Jurutka’s reputation has spread beyond the West campus; students from other ASU campuses also seek him out as a mentor.

“Working with Dr. Jurutka really prepared me for the challenges of applying to and succeeding in medical school,” said Rimpi Saini, one of the four of Jurutka’s mentees recently admitted to the U of A College of Medicine – Phoenix. She received a bachelor's degree in molecular biology/biotechnology and psychology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“I quickly learned how to be organized, efficient and thorough in my work,” Saini said about her research experience with Jurutka. “I also learned valuable public speaking skills, as I had to present my research data in weekly lab meetings and occasional conferences. When it was time to apply for medical school, I knew that Dr. Jurutka would serve as an excellent mentor throughout the process.”

Shane Batie echoed Saini’s comments about the value of Jurutka’s mentorship. “He served as a mentor, teacher, professor and guidance counselor,” said Batie, who earned his bachelor’s degree in life sciences on the West campus through New College’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

“Dr. Jurutka demands excellence from his students, which drives us to work hard and be productive,” Batie said. “We had weekly meetings to discuss experiments, results and work on manuscripts to submit for publication. I consider the work I did with Dr. Jurutka the most beneficial piece of my application for medical school. He also reviewed and provided critique for my personal statement, a two-page essay that accompanies the medical school application.”

“Peter’s dedication to student success is typical for our faculty members,” said Roger Berger, director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “Whether students aspire to medical school, scientific research or a career path related to computing, math or statistics, our professors work tirelessly to help them reach their goals.”

“Dr. Jurutka cares for each and every one of his students, and his mentorship and direction really helped guide me in my journey to get into medical school,” said Iza Aguayo, another student who commuted to work with Jurutka and now is at the U of A. She earned a biological sciences degree from ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Living in the East Valley, I had to travel a great distance in order to be able to work in his lab several days a week. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Jurutka said that the West campus offers students a tremendous opportunity for research and provides an environment that fosters direct student interaction with faculty, an attribute that leads to greater involvement in independent research. “New College has a robust research program, and students who are motivated to work hard can become significant players in conducting and publishing cutting-edge research,” he said.

“To this day, Dr. Jurutka is still one of my most valuable mentors,” Saini said. “I always feel very comfortable emailing him with any questions I have about my future career, as he always offers valuable, unbiased advice. I attribute much of my success to the skills learned from him and the research experience.”

Jurutka teaches such subjects as applied molecular genetics and genomics, chemistry and biochemistry, as well as individualized lab instruction and undergraduate research. He has received a number of prestigious honors, including the ASU Faculty Achievement Award in 2011 for Excellence in Undergraduate Student Mentoring; the Norwich-Eaton Young Investigator Research Award for significant contributions to the field of bone and mineral research; and the John Haddad Young Investigator Award presented by Advances in Mineral Metabolism and the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research. Jurutka is also an independent reviewer for several professional journals.

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix is a full, four-year program based in downtown Phoenix focused on training individuals to become exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders. The college offers students a varied experience working with clinical partners, including Banner Health, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Maricopa Integrated Health System, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Scottsdale Healthcare, Phoenix Baptist, Mayo Clinic and the Phoenix VA Health Care System.