Minorities and medical school

Program aims to increase number of rural, minority and disadvantaged students.

By Joe Hanson

A report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Health Policy Institute stated that African-Americans and Hispanics, who represented a third of the U.S. population in 2008, accounted for just 15 percent of U.S. medical students and 8.7 percent of physicians during that same time period. The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at the University of Louisville (UofL) hopes to change that.

SMDEP is a free (meaning full tuition, housing and meals) six-week summer academic enrichment program that offers freshman and sophomore college students intensive and personalized medical and dental school preparation.

Programs offered include academic enrichment in the basic sciences (organic chemistry, physics and biology) and pre-calculus/calculus, as well as career development, learning-skills seminar, limited clinical exposure and a financial planning workshop.

According to the SMDEP web site, the program offers daily opportunities for rural, minority and disadvantaged undergraduates to experience the way in which math and science are integrated into medical and dental school studies and careers.

Each summer, UofL accepts 80 potential medical or dental students to the program. In 2012, there were 20 predental and 60 pre-medical students from 21 states and from various racial and ethnic groups.

High Honor
UofL is one of only 12 medical and dental institutions nationwide that participates in SMDEP. This is a high honor to be selected, as Mary Joshua, associate director of the program, explained. “In April 2005 we submitted a brief proposal to The Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and we were one of 20 selected for a site visit. This was a very competitive process; however, we were one of 12 sites funded,” she said.

Ariel Washington, a psychology major from UofL, enrolled in the program last summer. Washington discovered the program from a friend who loved it because it reinforced for her the need to be a doctor.

Washington said this program has benefited her in the pursuit of a medical degree. “This program has solidified the desire to go to medical school and make a difference. Not only did SMDEP help me to get a glimpse into medical school, it also helped me make life-long friends.”

Another participant, Shaquavia Hardy, who is a psychology major at the University of Florida, also had positive reviews of the program.

“My time in the SMDEP was a phenomenal, life changing experience. During the program, I was able to meet inspirational faculty and staff, shadow a physician and participate in health symposiums and simulation labs,” she said. The program offers a big picture of
what medical school is like. “One of the main benefits I gained from the program was insight into the day in the life of a medical student,” she continued. “Each week there was a cohesive academic theme that reinforced integration of the material and allowed for application to medicine.”

Affects More Than Louisville
At first, the focus was specifically on minority groups, but now that has been broadened to include students from rural and economically disadvantaged areas as well.

“Our program ensures that students from groups under-represented in medicine or from underserved counties maximize their  potential in pursuit of a medical career,” Joshua said. “This underrepresentation adds significantly to health and healthcare disparities.”

This enlarged focus has positive implications for areas out side of Louisville as well.

As Joshua explained, “Because this is a national program which brings students from rural areas across the country, including a large number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, we are now able to make a difference on a much larger scale.”


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