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Yale’s New Virtual Program to Train and Diversify the Next Generation of Doctors and Scientists

December 08, 2020

This semester, 69 talented undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students from across the United States began participating in the Yale Program to Advance Training in Health and Sciences, or PATHS, a series of virtual workshops and conversations that expose them to MD, MD/PhD, and PhD training programs, faculty, and near-peer mentors at Yale School of Medicine.

The year-long program, which began in August and is set to run until July 2021, was launched as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “After the shutdown of many summer health and research educational training opportunities traditionally hosted at Yale, we wanted to be able to give students access to Yale mentors and role models in a safe setting, while helping them advance towards their goals of enrolling in science and health-related degrees,” says Linda Jackson, Director of Educational Outreach Programs in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE), one of the leaders of the program.

The program was modeled after the successful Yale Ciencia Academy, an NIH-funded program run by Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD, of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that helps PhD students from minoritized or marginalized backgrounds find academic and career success. “We have found that virtual communities of support, professional development, and mentoring can be revolutionary, particularly in building students’ confidence and resilience,” says Guerrero-Medina.

The PATHS program is divided into two cohorts. Students in PATHS “Beginnings” are in their early undergraduate years and have not had much exposure to health or research careers. Students in this cohort participate in in-depth discussions about what careers in medicine and research entail and how they can organize their undergraduate coursework and extracurricular activities to gain the knowledge and experience needed to enter those fields.

Students in the PATHS “Transitions” cohort are more advanced in their undergraduate studies and planning to apply to an advanced degree program within a year or two. Some have already graduated and are completing post-baccalaureate training opportunities. These students participate in workshops and panels geared to help them complete their graduate or medical school applications, proceed to interviews, and choose the program that best matches their interests.

Regardless of their cohort, all students meet once a month and have the chance to interact with inspiring Yale faculty members, students, and alumni from diverse backgrounds. The conversations give students the opportunity to meet relatable role models, celebrate their identities in science, and see themselves in these training paths and careers.

Recently, Owen Garrick, MD ’98, MBA, spoke to PATHS students about how he weaved his medical training and business background into an enriching career that allows him to combat health inequities in clinical research. As president and CEO of Bridge Clinical Research, Garrick works with his team to ensure that clinical studies include and are communicated in a culturally sensitive way to patients from minority communities so as to improve the effectiveness of medical interventions. During his talk, Garrick encouraged students to “get involved in health and science in a way that has personal meaning,” and to “get out of their comfort zone” in seeking opportunities and in looking to establish mentoring relationships.

The inaugural class of PATHS consists mostly of students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in science and from Minority Serving Institutions. Students come from institutions as far reaching as Tuskegee University, Boston University, Cornell, Gateway Community College, and various University of Puerto Rico campuses.

Melanie Brady, a PhD candidate in neuroscience and graduate fellow for Yale School of Medicine, who is a co-organizer and guest speaker for PATHS, says that “being part of this yearlong program has been incredibly rewarding. It has allowed us to create a reliable and meaningful experience for our students, which is particularly important during these times of uncertainty.”

As part of PATHS, students also have the chance to receive individualized mentoring through collaborations with students from the Yale Biomedical and Biological Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Collective (YBDIC) and the Yale chapters of the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Association (SNMA/LMSA). These near-peer interactions give students a realistic yet uplifting view of a variety of STEM journeys and help them navigate their transition into health and science degrees.

When asked to reflect about her experience in the program, Bernice Oquendo-Herencia, a PATHS-Beginnings student from the University of Puerto Rico, Ponce, said, “During my time within the program I have had a wonderful experience. The staff is incredibly encouraging and helpful. They have created a supportive environment that doesn’t fail to guide you when in doubt. With every meeting I have grown wiser and more confident in the decisions I will be taking during my studies and for my future career in medicine.”

PATHS is as a collaboration of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE) and the Yale Ciencia Initiative (YCI).

The PATHS program coordination team includes Linda Jackson; Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD; Melanie Brady; Titilayo Omotade, PhD; Janet Desmarais, Theresa Smith Hines, and Genevieve Cabrera.

Submitted by Robert Forman on December 08, 2020