Yale School of Medicine Hosts Over 400 College Students Interested in Health Profession Careers

More than 400 undergraduates interested in careers in health care, with backgrounds that are underrepresented in many health professions, filled Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) Harkness Auditorium on July 9 for the Pre-Health Conference and Recruitment Fair. The majority traveled to Yale from Columbia and Rutgers Universities, where they were participating in the six-week Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), established by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. SHPEP’s goal is to help students who are underrepresented in the health professions better prepare for applying to and attending health professional schools by focusing on strengthening their academic capabilities and career development.

The July 9 event grew out of an annual career fair for students in SHPEP, which YSM, Columbia and Rutgers have hosted for over 15 years on a rotating basis. This year, Linda Jackson, director of YSM’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE), decided to expand the programming and host a half-day conference prior to the fair. With the new format, this year Jackson also invited students underrepresented in medicine with an interest in medicine from many local schools, including the University of Connecticut, Southern, Eastern, and Western Connecticut State Universities, Albertus Magnus College, and the University of New Haven.

Darin Latimore, MD, YSM’s deputy dean for diversity and inclusion, delivered an opening keynote encouraging the students to pursue their interests in the health professions, noting, “There are very few jobs where you wake up knowing you will help a person and help society. We need you.”

Latimore, who is Black and was the first in his family to attend college, shared his own story of the challenges he faced as he pursued his goal of becoming a doctor. These ranged from choosing to take calculus three times to increase his GPA and strengthen his medical school applications, to having a father in prison and a mother on disability, resulting in most of his family trying to dissuade him from pursuing his dream because they believed it would take him away from home.

“There are very few jobs where you wake up knowing you will help a person and help society. We need you.”

Darin Latimore, MD, YSM’s deputy dean for diversity and inclusion

He described how his academic advisors also tried to steer him away from applying to medical school; when he went to the pre-med office for advice, the counselor told him, “Not everyone is meant to be a doctor.” Pointing to this experience, he told the students, “Don’t let anyone define you. Don’t let anyone take the fire out of your belly.” He encouraged them to seek out true advisors, who are not necessarily always people with the title of advisors, but rather individuals “whose goal is to help you get to where you want to be.”

Toward the end of his remarks, Latimore tried to help the students internalize this message. He asked them all to stand and “loudly and with pride” state, “I will be a...” followed by the medical profession they each wished to become. After a couple of slightly subdued rounds, Latimore’s enthusiastic encouragement led to loud exclamations of professions such as surgeon, doctor and dentist filling the auditorium. A stream of questions followed Latimore’s remarks. One student raised her hand not to ask a question, but to remark: “Your speech was very inspirational. Thank you so much.”

Participants had a chance to engage with current YSM student Sascha Murillo. Murillo is about to enter her research year, during which she will be a Jones Fellow, serving as executive director of Yale’s student-run HAVEN Free Clinic.

In a talk titled “To Build a Movement for Health Justice, Organize, Organize, Organize,” she shared lessons learned from community organizing for health justice.

Murillo has significant experience to draw upon. Before medical school, she worked to advance health equity at the federal level through the Wellstone Fellowship at Families USA and spent two years as a community organizer for the Health Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

In addition to telling the attendees about her community organizing prior to medical school, Murillo discussed how students of color and other student advocates at YSM organized and advocated for change at the school, which led, in early 2016, to YSM creating the Committee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (CDISJ), comprised of students, faculty and members of the administration.

Murillo believes CDISJ, which has the mission to “establish sustainable reforms that increase diversity among trainees and faculty; to foster an inclusive environment that fully values all members of YSM; to enhance training on issues of health inequity; and to advance social justice within YSM and in our broader community,” will both improve the experience at YSM for people of color and strengthen the school as a whole.

Conference participants then had the opportunity to select two breakout sessions from a range of options. There were four separate sessions for students to ask questions about pathways to medical, dental, physician assistant and pharmacy schools. Other sessions included: transitioning from a two-year to a four-year college or university; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; networking; finding research opportunities; and navigating pre-health as a first generation and/or low-income student.

Jacqui Comshaw, associate program director of the Yale Physician Assistant Online Program, moderated two “Pathways to Physician Assistant” sessions and found that “the participants were very engaged in learning more about the health professions. They asked excellent questions and clearly had invested time to research the PA profession. I enjoyed speaking with them and providing insight into the path to becoming a physician assistant.”

As the conference transitioned to the career fair, the students filled Yale’s new event space, Yale on York, where they met with representatives from over 40 schools with medicine, nursing, physician assistant, dentistry and public health programs. Many schools traveled significant distances to attend, such as Duke University School of Medicine, the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry. Quinnipiac University’s Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, which partners with YSM’s DICE office on other initiatives, hosted a reception the night before the event for all the visiting schools. Not all recruiters had to travel to attend the fair: Yale had tables for YSM’s Physician Associate, Physician Assistant Online, MD and MD-PhD programs.

Christina Alvarez, a Gateway Community College student participating in the Yale Summer Enrichment Medical Academy, which provides a free six-week intensive science curriculum and guidance on how to navigate the medical school application process, found the Pre-Health Conference and Recruitment Fair “an invaluable experience, interacting with different speakers, meeting students from around the country and gaining important information from recruiters.”

Citation for this content: Yale School of Medicine Physician Assistant Online Program