News

7.19.2011

Paving a Pathway for Future Doctors

Amid the noontime din at the Jackson Memorial Hospital cafeteria, a group of young students eat lunch while chattering excitedly about their classes and their futures. They are not medical students—at least not yet—but the college juniors, seniors and recent graduates seem to blend in well with the physicians, medical students and dozens of hospital employees around them.

In the years to come, these students could very well join the ranks of medicine, thanks to the program that has brought them to the Miller School this summer for a seven-week “mini med school experience.” The initiative, Minority Students in Health Careers Motivation Program, is one of the five programs that comprise the Miami Comprehensive Model for Health Professions Education, which, for more than three decades, has been providing underrepresented minority students with opportunities to develop the necessary skills to successfully compete for admission to schools in the medical field.

The ultimate goal? To significantly increase diversity in the health and allied health professions, an ideal long supported by the coordinators, the Miller School’s Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and Office of Medical Education, and the University of Miami’s Office of Academic Enrichment. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Careers Opportunities Program provides funding.

This year 125 students are participating in the larger initiative, including Terrol Graham, who is among the 25 getting hands-on experience from the Motivation Program, which offers college students a mini first semester of medical education, including select basic science courses and physician-shadowing opportunities. It is the only one of the five programs that requires students to live on the Coral Gables campus for its seven-week duration.

“It’s a true introduction to medical school and what it is like to be a physician,” said Graham, 22, a graduate of Wake Forest University who will pursue a master’s degree at the Yale School of Public Health in the fall and is also considering getting an M.D.

The program was perfect for Graham’s classmate Artisha Scott, 20, who always had a passion for helping people and was inspired to pursue a career in pediatrics two years ago after meeting a pediatrician at a youth leadership forum at Georgetown University.

“There are no doctors in my family,” Scott said. “I wanted to do something different where I could help people.”

Housed at the Miller School’s Office of Minority Affairs, the umbrella Miami Comprehensive Model program was directed for 20 years by Astrid Mack, Ph.D., former research associate professor of medicine and associate dean for minority affairs. Mack retired in 2008, and the program is now under the guidance of Nanette Vega, director of diversity and multicultural affairs.

“The Miami Model was established to create a pipeline to careers in the health sciences, particularly medicine,” said Vega. “The goal is to expose students to the health sciences because they are our future health professionals.”

In addition to the Motivation Program, the Miami Comprehensive Model includes three other seven-week initiatives limited to Miami-Dade high school students. The Summer Science Enrichment Program, for incoming 10th graders, helps students develop the basic skills necessary to enter the health profession; the Students Training in Research, for incoming 11th graders, gives students opportunities to engage in laboratory research; and the High School Careers in Medicine Workshop, for incoming high school seniors, exposes students to a teaching-learning environment to help them gain the skills needed to pursue a medical career.

Along with the Motivation Program, the other college program is the Medical College Admissions Test Preparation Program, which helps students prepare for the MCAT through lectures covering the physical and biological sciences, and the verbal reasoning components of the test. It is jointly organized with the Office of Medical Education.

Although the rigorous curriculum is key, the programs also allow students to form friendships, learn from each other, and even discuss what piqued their interest in health care. Graham, for example, realized he wanted to do something in the health field in 2009 when he interned in his native Jamaica and worked with HIV patients.

“I want to make an impact,’’ Graham said. “This is a way to give back to those who are less fortunate.”

Scott, who will be a UM senior come fall, believes the program, which gives her access to professionals already in the field, will be an advantage as she pursues a career in pediatrics.

“There is much more to the program than just going to class, which I didn’t expect,” Scott said. “It provides invaluable insight about the medical system, and it’s a way to connect with people who are encouraging and inspirational.

“The program has helped us all realize that there are no traditional ways to get to medical school. There are different paths for different people, and as long as we get there that’s all that matters.”

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