Alyssa Volmrich, James Miller and Gina Sparacino.

Left to right: Alyssa Volmrich, James Miller and Gina Sparacino — all first-year medical students from the Buffalo area — were awarded full scholarships to attend UB.

3 UB Medical Students Win Full Scholarships From New Local Fund

Published April 23, 2015 This content is archived.

Story based on news release by Ellen Goldbaum

Three first-year medical students are the first to receive full scholarships from the Western New York Medical Scholarship Fund.

“The fund provides some of our top students with an incentive to stay where many would prefer to practice — in the community where they grew up and have strong personal connections. ”
Michael E. Cain, MD
Vice president for health sciences and dean, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences



Each will receive at least $30,000 per year throughout four years of medical school.

The fund’s long-term goal is to sustain six to 10 scholarships annually over the next decade.

Local physicians and community leaders created the fund to help keep more locally trained doctors in Western New York and to help address a physician shortage.

Local Scholars Inspired to Pursue Medicine

The inaugural winners have all graduated from Western New York high schools and excelled academically.

James Miller says he was encouraged to go to medical school even while studying to be a physician’s assistant — a position he held for eight years. The married father of two graduated from Frontier High School.

“This is home,” he says. “To have this opportunity and be able to stay in Western New York is very gratifying.”

Gina Sparacino became interested in medicine when her grandfather was a patient at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “I started shadowing doctors and volunteered at Roswell,” says the Kenmore East High School and Canisius College alumna. “I really want to give back to the people in this community.”

Alyssa Volmrich, who plans to pursue geriatric medicine, also was inspired by her family. When she observed how the doctors treated her grandmother in hospice, “I realized there is a humanistic approach to medicine,” she says.

“I feel the elderly need a lot of special care that they sometimes don’t get.”

After graduating from Holy Angels Academy, Volmrich entered Duquesne University in Pittsburgh as a pre-dental student, then switched to pre-med.

Because of the scholarship, “I can decide what I want to do based on my hopes and interests,” she adds.

Winners to Practice in Buffalo Area

All of the scholarship awardees have pledged to practice medicine in Western New York for at least five years after completing speciality training.

“In addition to helping address the region’s physician shortage, the fund provides some of our top students with an incentive to stay where many would prefer to practice — in the community where they grew up and have strong personal connections,” says Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school.

Medical students tend to stay in the area where they study medicine or complete their residency training, says John J. Bodkin II, MD ’76, co-chair and founder of the scholarship program. He notes that similar programs in other cities have succeeded in helping to retain local physicians.

Nearly half of the UB medical school’s Class of 2018 — 69 out of 144 freshmen — are from Western New York; 126 are New York State residents.

Addressing Local Physician Shortage

In 2013, Western New York was experiencing the worst doctor shortage in the state in certain categories, according to the nonprofit Healthcare Association of New York State. 

The data show that per 100,000 people, Western New York has:

  • 60 family medicine physicians, compared to a national average of about 80
  • five general surgeons, versus a national rate of about eight

Bodkin, a family physician at Buffalo’s Highgate Medical Group, has seen the effects of shortages first-hand.

“If I have patients who need to see a dermatologist, they may have to wait three to four months, and their problem could be acute by then,” says Bodkin. “If a family doctor like myself refers a diabetic patient to an endocrinologist, that’s because the patient is very sick. But it can take months before the endocrinologist can see them.”

The fund he spearheaded is designed to begin addressing such shortages.

UB also will help ease the shortage with its new medical school — the largest under construction in the nation, Cain adds. This state-of-the-art facility, set to open in 2017, will allow UB to raise its class size to 180, educating 40 more physicians each year.