Miami Model Summer Programs Prepare College Students for Healthcare Careers

Growing up knowing his older sister died at age 3 in Nigeria without a diagnosis, Emeka Okafor has wanted to be a doctor since he was a child. Determined to realize his dream, he was among 50 college students welcomed last week to two of the University’s 2013 Miami Model Summer Programs, which prepare underrepresented high school and college students for medical school and healthcare careers.

At the conclusion of his first week in the Minority Students in Health Careers Motivation Program, Okafor was more certain than ever of his career choice, as well as the value of spending the next six weeks attending basic science classes, clinical rotations and seminars aimed at developing the skills needed to successfully compete for admission to medical school.

“It’s been amazing,” the biomedical engineering student at South Carolina University said. “So many resources. So much encouragement. I never even thought about cultural competency and here I am learning how important it is in healthcare.”

Eduardo Keane, a rising senior at Brandeis University, was equally impressed with the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) Preparation Program, which he quickly learned offers far more than test-taking strategies and lectures on the physical sciences, biological sciences, and verbal reasoning components of the MCAT. “I’ve only been here a week, but it’s been astonishing,” the Miami Beach High School graduate said. “It’s not just MCAT; it’s mentorship and experiences you could not get on your own – like doing mock interviews. I am just blown away by the opportunities.”

Funded by the Miller School and a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Miami Model programs have been a cornerstone of student diversity initiatives at the Miller School for more than three decades. All three of its programs now draw more than 125 applicants for each of their 25 slots.

Among the highlights of the Class of 2013’s first week was a daylong joint session of the Motivation and MCAT programs, which each have 25 students. Held June 7 at the Miller School, the joint session began with a panel discussion by four students in or bound for medical school, including Khadjia Jackson, a 2011 graduate of the Motivation Program, who is a representative of its success. A graduate of FIU, she has been accepted to medical school in Georgia.

“I would say six of every 10 of our students go on to medical professions, so we have been very successful in creating a pipeline to medical school and health-related professions,” said Nanette Vega, Director of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs who leads the summer programs with Sheri Keitz, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, and the Office of Academic Enhancement led by Robert Moore, Ed.D., Assistant Provost of Undergraduate Education/Director and Liana Mentor, Assistant Director, on the Gables campus. “We do whatever is possible to ensure these students realize their dreams.”

Another highlight was Keitz’s personal message about seizing opportunities and not letting other people define what you do. She conveyed that message by reading aloud her nearly 30-year-old journal entry of the first patient she touched – and who touched her – when she was a medical student.

In the entry, Keitz recounted how fellow medical students carefully choose which patients they would see, bypassing foreign-sounding names or difficult conditions. But not even knowing what “lock-up” was, she chose as her third patient a man confined to a high-security ward. There she found a young, black patient in obvious respiratory distress, and soon realized he was infected with HIV/AIDS.

As the patient anxiously waited for a test, she spent the next hour massaging his back, and talking about “everything but his disease.” When a team, including one of her teachers arrived with a fellow medical student to perform a bronchoscopy, Keitz held the patient’s hands and whispered encouraging words until the procedure was performed successfully.

Keitz knew she would never see the patient again, but she has not forgotten him, nor her fellow medical student who stayed beyond the drawn curtain, never looking at, much less touching, the patient. “Who will you be?” Keitz asked the Miami Model students. “Will you be staying behind the curtain…or will you be as engaged as I was seeing my third patient?”

For Okafor, the answer was clear: “I think too many doctors lack many of the attributes needed to communicate with and help their patients,” he said. “But by coming in and talking to us, Dr. Keitz has ensured that we will always be conscious of them. Her session was extremely valuable.”

As Keitz did nearly three decades ago, the Miami Model students also are encouraged to keep a journal, which Stephen Symes, M.D., Assistant Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, discussed in his presentation aimed at preparing them for clinical rounds. As he noted, personal relationships and the powers of observation are key to making good diagnoses.

“Eighty percent of the time you are going to make a diagnosis based on family history, so you better be able to talk to people, and you better be able to listen,” Symes said. “It may seem intimidating at first but, like everything, it gets easier the more you do it.”

Also addressing the students at the joint session was Stefanie Brown, M.D., Assistant Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, who talked about the road to becoming a physician.

In addition to the MCAT and Motivation programs, the Miami Model programs include a seven-week High School Careers in Medicine Workshop aimed at helping incoming high school seniors gain the skills needed to pursue medical careers. The workshop will welcome 25 students from Miami-Dade Public Schools on June 12.

Supported by the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, The Miami Model for Health Professions Education builds upon the lifelong work of Astrid Mack, Ph.D., formerly the Miller School’s Associate Dean for Minority Affairs, who played a pivotal role in helping hundreds of disadvantaged youths seek productive healthcare careers. Now in the fundraising stage, The Dr. Astrid Mack Diversity Endowment Fund has been established to support programs like the Miami Model and other related diversity initiatives.

For more information, please contact the Office of Faculty Affairs at 305-243-6551 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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