For 10 weeks this winter and spring, high-school students from New Haven and nearby communities gave up their Saturday mornings to come to the medical school to learn about HIV, nutrition, drug abuse, domestic violence and other health issues. They attended a series of lectures prepared by minority students like themselves and designed to encourage them to go to college. “One of the keys to this program is the interaction with other students from backgrounds that are similar to theirs,” said David LaBorde, a second-year medical student who coordinated the program this year. “It is something that medical students are committed to, to make sure that students who come after them have the same opportunities they were privy to.”

The Health Professions Recruitment and Enrichment Program (HPREP) was created in 1989 by the Student National Medical Association and started at Yale five years later. “The whole idea is to foster mentorships between local high school students and medical students in the same regions and cities,” said Eboni G. Price, a fourth-year medical student at Johns Hopkins, a member of the SNMA who co-chairs HPREP at the national level. The program has spread to 60 chapters around the country. “Our predominant goal is to get them into college and support them in whatever career choice they decide.”

On a Saturday morning in March, Karl Lozanne, a second-year medical student, stood on the stage in the Hope Building auditorium and asked 40 high school students what they eat and how they eat it. “How many individuals are going to eat their first meal at 11 o’clock today?” he asked, referring to the pizza and sodas on the menu for lunch. Hands shot up all over the auditorium. “That’s not healthy,” Lozanne said before beginning a talk on the basics of healthy eating. After a lecture on nutrition and exercise, the students had lunch and then broke up into small discussion groups.

Since its inception in 1994, the Yale program has also offered tangible help to college-bound students, providing $18,500 in grants to 13 students. An interest in health or medicine is not a requirement. The course is designed to encourage a range of abilities. “Things like critical thinking and writing skills have broad applications in any field they go into,” said Damani Piggott, a second-year student who taught the HPREP course this year and served as president of Yale’s SNMA chapter last year.