2016 Lincoln University valedictorian to attend Penn State Medical School

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On a March weekday, senior Lincoln biology student Renyta Scales received an email that would change the course of her life: she had been accepted to Penn State Medical School. She read the email, – thrilled to be admitted to one of her top choices – called her parents, and told her friends. And then she went to class.

That work ethic and plenty of natural academic ability earned her a 4.0 grade point average and the honor of being named the 2016 Lincoln University valedictorian.

“It wasn't something I was trying for,” Scales said of the perfect 4.0. “I just knew what needed to be done in order to be successful in my classes.”

A native of Fort Washington, Maryland, Scales was an academic standout even at Oxon Hill High School in the suburbs of Prince Georges County. She also played varsity golf and earned Girl Scout’s highest honor, the Gold Award.

She said she looked at several colleges, and while she chose Lincoln primarily for financial reasons – Lincoln’s 21st Century Scholarship fully funds her tuition and room and board – she learned that she had made the right decision for more reasons than just money.

 “It ended up being everything I wanted,” Scales said.  

Scales is a member of the Horace Mann Bond Honors program, Tri Beta Biological Honor Society, and Alpha Mu Gamma National Foreign Language Honor Society.

Path to medical school                                                             

It was a program that she completed the summer after her freshman year that she says “pushed” her to strive to become a doctor; her original goal was to become a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant.

She spent two months in the National Institutes of Health STEP-UP Program at the Children’s National Medical Center where she researched the prevalence of prehypertension and hypertension in children and adolescents in primary care clinics. STEP-UP provides hands-on summer research experience for undergraduate students, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds, interested in exploring research careers.

“Being in that environment, seeing the doctors and what they do, it made me want to go for it,” Scales said. “I wanted to remove the limitations I had on myself to go further. It was really a realization that I could do more.”

Scales took that decision to pursue a medical degree seriously because she knew it is a lengthy, costly process. Becoming a medical doctor typically takes from 11 to 16 years of education, including four years of college, four years of medical school, and anywhere from three to eight years of residency.

In the summers after her sophomore and junior years, Scales gained more confidence in her decision to pursue a medical degree during research internships at the University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson University, respectively.  

Anna Hull, a biology professor and academic advisor, praised Scales’ drive. “She’s so motivated and when she achieves, it appears effortless, but I know she works hard. I don’t have enough good things to say about her. ”

She got her first look at Penn State’s medical campus in during Primary Care Day in Fall 2014 and then returned in Summer 2015 for a one-week residential internship at the Hershey campus during the Primary Care Scholars Program.

Medical school admission process

The formal medical school admission process started during her junior year when she requested an interview with the Pre-health Professions Advisory Committee, a Lincoln faculty committee that interviews candidates in order to write a recommendation letter for students seeking admission to graduate schools in health professions.

Part of the application process involved demonstrating service to the community. Scales is president of Rotaract, a Rotary-sponsored community service organization with a mission of “Service Above Self.”

“Honestly, I was not a selfless person all my life. Rotaract truly changed my attitude about giving voluntarily without expecting something in return.”

David Royer, a biology professor and Pre-Health Professions chairman, said, “Medical schools are looking for people who give generously of their time,” and he added Scales has many interests and has a natural connection with people calling her “kind,” “open,” and a “people person.”

Royer worked with Scales on her personal statement and various application essays for the 10 schools she applied to and described Scales as “committed” and “mature.”

She earned interviews at six medical schools, including Penn State. Academic advisor Anna Hull said that while some people take a gap year between undergraduate and medical school to complete the lengthy admission process, Scales did all the admission work while also taking classes, volunteering, and completing research programs.

“She did it straight out of college, and she applied to high-tier medical schools,” said Hull. 

Admission to Penn State’s medical program is anything but a given; in 2015, 9,449 students applied to be part of the entering medical doctorate class, and only 881 earned an interview.   The entering class had just 149 students, according to their website.

How did she feel after getting accepted?

"It is really good that I got in, but the transition ahead... yeah that does frighten me from time to time, but I see God ordering my steps so I know everything will work out for the best," Scales said.

She won’t have long to wait for the next chapter of her career to begin: her first day of medical school orientation is July 13.

By Shelley Mix, Office of Communications & Public Relations