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School of Medicine Hosts First Look Immersion Program to Increase Student Diversity

November 22, 2019
by Abigail Roth

“Completely life changing.” That is how Anna Martínez Guadalupe, an undergraduate at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, described the “Pathway to Medicine 101” session she attended at Yale School of Medicine (YSM), in which Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and associate professor, shared his own story.  This session was part of the First Look Immersion Program, which YSM’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE) hosted on campus on October 10 – 11, 2019.

Ten premedical counselors and 19 students from six historically black colleges and universities and four University of Puerto Rico campuses participated. DICE invited the counselors, encouraging each to bring two students not yet in the application process. Beyond hoping the students would become interested in YSM, DICE sought to provide counselors with information that would help them encourage students on their home campuses to consider YSM, and guide those students through the application process. Quo Vadis Webster, MA, LPC, director of premedical program, Xavier University, provided a positive assessment: “The First Look Immersion Program provided me with valuable insight that will inform my conversations with Xavier students as they explore medical school options that are aligned with who they are as students and who they hope to be as clinicians." 

DICE believes this outreach is important so that students who may not be considering YSM— either because they think they would not qualify for admission or would not fit in—seriously consider it. The program provided multiple opportunities for engagement with current Black and Latino medical students, faculty, and school leadership. Robert Ross, PhD, professor/ RISE program coordinator, University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus, found this valuable, “our students will be applying to Yale for their graduate school studies. They were impressed with the dedication and the enthusiasm of the Yale faculty, staff, and students who made them aware that Yale was a viable option to achieve their long term goals.”

During the Pathways to Medicine 101 session, Latimore, who is Black and was the first in his family to go to college, told about how most of his family was not supportive of his dream to attend college, fearing it would take him from home when his father was in prison and his mother had a disability. His academic advisors also discouraged him, questioning his capabilities. He emphasized students should not let anyone else define them.

Guadalupe wrote to Latimore after the program, noting “it was so inspiring to hear your story and see how well it fit with what one should or shouldn’t do when applying to medical school. It was also the most informative seminar I’ve ever attended in my two years in college. After two weeks, I’m still telling my family and friends about how much your seminar made me look at medical school from a different perspective.”

Nancy Angoff, MD ‘90, MPH ‘81, MEd, professor of medicine and associate dean for student affairs, shared similar themes to Latimore, during breakfast with students. Angoff, who is white and a YSM graduate, asked: how did she represent YSM’s commitment to a diverse student body? When the initial response focused on Angoff’s gender, she pushed the students to recognize that many factors impact the diversity of a community. She then explained that having started medical school at age 39, she was much older than many of her classmates, and one of the few parents of teenagers. She added that neither of her parents had attended college, so she had never thought going to medical school was possible. When a student asked how to frame less-than-stellar grades her first year of college, Angoff emphasized the importance of shaping one’s own narrative.

About 20 current students from the YSM Chapters of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), which is focused on the needs and concerns of Black medical students, and the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), ate lunch with the participants, and discussed their experiences as YSM students. 

The participants also met with department leaders to learn about admissions, financial aid, and the curriculum of the MD and MD/PhD programs. Ayaska Fernando, admissions director, said “it was wonderful to engage the students and premedical advisees from these 10 colleges and universities and discuss medical school admissions, and YSM’s focus on holistic and contextual admissions.” He added, “it was also heartening to see current YSM students who attended these institutions present at the program, sharing their insights.” 

Fran Scott, M.Ed., assistant director, premedical advisement program, Florida A&M University, appreciated this information, finding the program “offered premed advisors and students a unique opportunity to learn about the Yale System and attend transformative sessions and engage in pre-medical discussions with faculty and staff.”

Advisors and students also toured the medical school and Yale New Haven Hospital, watched an ultrasound demonstration, and enjoyed group dinners in Downtown New Haven.

DICE was able to host the event due to generous support from YSM alumna Linda Armstrong MD ’88, with matching support from Novartis, where Armstrong is Global Head of the Respiratory Development Unit. Her gift will continue funding the First Look Immersion Program for the next two years. Armstrong seeks to “accelerate and expand” activities related to diversity and inclusion, while DICE plans to track the number of applications and attendees from the visiting schools.

Early signs are promising. By program’s end, all but one of the students said they planned to apply to YSM. Fabiola Sotomayor, a student at University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, wrote to Latimore, “in Puerto Rico, we are not often informed into the whole process of applying to medicine. I got back home excited for the road I am about to embark soon. Hope to be back to Yale as soon as possible.” 

Francisco Torres, studying at University of Puerto Rico, Cayey, also wrote to Latimore, “I found it very informative and enriching. Thank you for taking the time to work towards a more diverse and equitable environment for us underrepresented communities. Here's to more inclusion in the field of medicine!” 

Submitted by Abigail Roth on November 22, 2019