| The University of Arkansas Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Division for Medical Sciences (UAMS) recently concluded its first summer of Health Career U, an effort that provides students from minority groups underrepresented exposure to healthcare careers and assistance in getting into medical school.
Health Career U, which encompasses a variety of programs for high school and undergraduate students across the state and region, enrolled 75 participants this summer.
Students in their last two years of high school or their first two years of college can enter the Health Career U pipeline through the Summer Research Internship (SRI) program. The eight-week program allows students to broaden their understanding of healthcare careers by conducting scientific research.
Participants spent five days a week in the lab, working with mentors and reviewing experiments. They also attended workshops to learn more about how to conduct research and write articles.
“Our SRI students have worked directly with renowned UAMS biomedical researchers in their labs performing transformational research,” said Gloria Richard-Davis, MD, MBA, executive director of the division. “Students had the opportunity to present their research at UAMS and at state research symposia.”
Zaryah Smith, a student at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School in Little Rock, examined DNA damage in healthy cells and in those of cancer patients. “It was really fun,” she said. “Going back to high school, I can brag about having spent the summer working with all this high-tech equipment.”
Freshmen and sophomores can also learn about healthcare careers through the four-week Pre-Health Summer Fellowship program. Participants learn about cutting-edge medical technologies and treatments and have the chance to collaborate with leaders in the healthcare industry.
“This program helps them create their roadmap to medical school and other health professional schools,” said Renisha Ward, director of outreach programs for the division.
The eight-week Pre-Medical Summer Scholars program aims to get students into medical school. Pre-med students receive mentorship from faculty and medical students and professional assistance to prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and for medical school applications.
For some students, getting into medical school isn’t about aptitude, Ward said. The goal of the Pre-Medical Summer Scholars program is to remove barriers that may prevent them from passing the admissions test.
“Student testimonials highlight how they would never have had these opportunities without this program, and how these experiences have helped them better prepare for a health career and apply to vocational school, i.e. say in medicine, pharmacy and the like,” Richard-Davis said.
Guillermo Leyva, a student at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, said the program provided him with a number of helpful resources. “It’s great that we were able to come together with people who have the same ambitions as us,” he said.
Health Career U also supports students through the HBCU Med Track program, a partnership with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and Philander Smith College. Students at these historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) receive career guidance and academic resources from UAMS.
Within the HBCU Med Track, the Anesthesia Tech Pipeline program works with students who have graduated from college but are not ready to go straight to medical school. Ward said the program serves as a “gap year” in which students are trained and hired as anesthesia technicians, allowing them to gain experience in the medical field.
UAPB graduate Roshuna Harris said attendees also attended an eight-week summer boot camp to prepare them for the MCAT. “It’s been very rewarding,” Harris said of the program. “It exposed me to new opportunities, learning to network with people on campus.”
The Serving Underrepresented Populations Through Engagement and Research (SUPER) program is also part of the HBCU Med Track. The SUPER program, which begins in July and ends in May, teaches students what it means to be a researcher.
At a week-long summer event, students learned about health disparities as well as process and ethics in conducting research. They also heard from recruitment specialists who described some of the fields of study offered by UAMS.
Kandace Jimmerson, a participant in the HBCU Med Track and Pre-Health Summer programs, attended the SUPER event. UAPB sophomore said Health Career U encourages students to consider all of their options in the medical field.
“It was good for me because I had an idea in my head, but it showed all the other things I could do,” said Jimmerson, who aspires to become a physician assistant specializing in neonatology.
Looking ahead, Richard-Davis said Health Career U plans to increase capacity and add a year-round dimension to keep in touch with students and support them in their academic pursuits. “We need to increase the capacity, because every year we have great candidates that we unfortunately cannot accommodate,” she said.
Ward said the opportunities that were created for students this summer will become evident in the coming years.
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed watching is the maturity that developed over the summer when students realized that this opportunity didn’t come around very often,” Ward said. “Seeing their faces light up was almost like Christmas. I know what we’re doing will have long-lasting effects across the state, and we’re excited to do our part to sprinkle the water and watch these seeds grow into mighty oaks.