In June 2016, the inaugural class of 50 students began at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. It's the first new medical school to open at an Association of American Universities research-based university in nearly 50 years. Dell boasts a completely new value-based curriculum and has recruited students with unconventional backgrounds interested in changing the future of care.

I spoke with a few of them as they are finishing up their first year to learn how they arrived at Dell and what their future plans are. Below are excerpts of the conversations, edited for clarity.

Leonard Edwards, 31

Where did you start out before Dell?

I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2009 with a degree in mechanical engineering. From there, I worked at a large multisector corporation where I worked in aerospace, defense contracting and designing automotive parts in Germany. I got a good feeling for three different facets of engineering and found out I didn’t like any of them. My journey to medicine was kind of a process of elimination. It wasn’t an epiphany where one day I knew I wanted to be a doctor. It was more of a slow, investigative process.  

I moved to San Antonio and worked on-site at Toyota doing manufacturing logistics. It was an amazing opportunity. I learned Six Sigma and received a black belt certification there. I was searching for fulfillment, so I started volunteering at a homeless shelter called Haven for Hope and started shadowing physicians. Then the only thing I could think about was the next time I would be shadowing. I was just set on fire by medicine.

By not being able to unsee the inequities and gaps in quality and inefficiencies in systems, the ethos and philosophy of the school really matched up with what I wanted to do with my career.

What’s been your most enjoyable moment so far?

Getting to know my classmates and clinical mentors. We split up into five-person clinical skills groups with a mentor, and some of my most memorable experiences have been working through problems that really frustrate us.

Amber Dunbar, 31

Where were you before Dell?

I graduated in May 2016 with a doctorate in psychology from Yale University. I did some behavioral neuroscience research to discover treatments for relapse to addiction in rodent models.

What made you decide to pursue medicine?

During my graduate work, I realized it’s hard to get that immediate satisfaction of helping people, because research takes years and you might never see it become something people adopt.

Did you consider other medical schools?

I got into a few others and applied to a bunch. I actually had no intention of going to Dell, but when I went to the interview, they sold me right away. I could tell it was something different and that they valued working with the community, and that’s specifically something I’m passionate about.

Did you have any concerns about going to a new med school?

I had a few reservations. It mainly had to do with whether it would be accredited. But, I was quickly convinced that there would be no problems.

Aydin Zahedivash, 23

Why did you choose Dell?

I graduated with a biomechanical engineering degree at The University of Texas at Austin. What really drew me was the collaboration with others not strictly in the medical school. They work with the College of Fine Arts and I do a lot with the College of Engineering, which allows for a lot of innovation.

What do you want to specialize in?

In terms of populations, I’d like to specialize in pediatrics. I really enjoy my time at children’s hospitals. My background in the undergraduate progeram was artificial intelligence. We’ve been designing neural networks that can detect patterns in intravascular images. It’s an interesting application of teaching computers how to recognize patterns that humans cannot. We’re doing that to help increase accuracy and speed of cardiovascular diagnostics. That’s particularly where I really like working, the intersection of technology and medicine.