Will, Sponsor-A-Scholar Class of 2014 and Northeast High School graduate, is currently in his Junior year at Penn State University. An academically gifted student majoring in Bio-Behavioral Health and Psychology, he plans to pursue a career in medicine and is strongly considering medical school as his next step. This past summer, Will had the opportunity to participate in the 6-week Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at Howard University. Over the course of the program, Will explored the medical profession through coursework, clinical rotations, and visits to the Association of American Medical Colleges and the National Institutes of Health. He was thrilled to be introduced to a vibrant and supportive community of African-American medical professionals, where he found valuable connections with peers and mentors. Will’s highly informative and insightful responses to our questions describe his experience in detail:
What is SMDEP and how did you find out about it?
“SMDEP stands for the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program and it is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is a six-week summer enrichment program that seeks to provide exposure and experience and preparation in the fields of medicine and dentistry for students that are underrepresented in those fields. The program is geared toward students of color and other underrepresented students (e.g. low socioeconomic status) in order to improve the racial and cultural diversity and inclusion in the field of medicine which is drastically needed due to the major health disparities in the field. The program is held at 12 different medical schools throughout the country—I participated in the program at Howard University. The best part of it all is that everything is FREE— room and board is covered, and you can also apply to get a travel scholarship to help cover travel expenses. Not only that, but you get a $600 stipend for spending money (warning: this runs out faster than you think!).
Had it not been for one of my best friends who participated in the program the previous summer, I would have never found out about this opportunity. He found out about the program through Ms. Joyce Hopsin-King, the multicultural advisor in the college of Health and Human Development. He was just telling me how awesome the program was in terms of both scholarly enrichment and fun. He went into the program believing that he wanted to be a Physician Assistant and left wanting to be an MD (medical doctor). He also said that program was a lot of fun and that he met a lot of great people that he’s still in touch with to this day. After hearing all of this, I knew this was something I had to apply to because I was considering medical school.”
What were your goals for the program?
“I was initially undecided in my major and my career goals, but as I began my sophomore year, I started to consider medicine as a possible career path. As a sophomore, I could see myself being a doctor from the little I knew about the field; however, I did not know everything it entailed. So, my goals for the program were to get some experience and gain more exposure to what it means to be a doctor, in order to have a more holistic view of the field of medicine and all that it encompasses. At the end of the program, I can proudly say that I have achieved these goals.
What was a typical day like while you were participating in SMDEP?
“Each program site runs the program a little differently, but they all consist of classes and rotations. The program at Howard University consisted of four classes: a health policy/ethics class, a communications class, a choice of either biochemistry or organic chemistry, and a choice of either physics or genetics. The classes were not taken for course credit, but were meant to serve as introductions to the subjects that would help prepare us for our fall classes. We attended classes from Monday through Thursday and had our clinical rotations on Friday. Our clinical rotations consisted of shadowing doctors from many different specialties including: Surgery, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, OB-GYN, Psychiatry, and many others.
Although there was a set schedule for most days, no day ever felt typical. It was as if each day were a new adventure! The staff, mentors, and my fellow students gave the program an amazing atmosphere. The staff and mentors pushed us hard, knowing we had so much untapped potential. They went out of their way to give us so many opportunities such as taking us to visit the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the National Institutes of Health. We also did fun things around the city like visiting national monuments and kayaking (where I fell out of the boat once). We even went to Six Flags!
In my opinion, the 78 other students were the best part of the program; I was humbled to be in the presence of so many talented individuals. Each one of them had a unique story which brought them to Howard. I met so many amazing people, and we all got so close in such a little amount of time. We had so much fun together and built bonds that won’t fade anytime soon!”
What do you think was the most valuable thing you learned over the course of the program?
“I learned so much by being in this program. One of the most important things I learned was what it really means to be a doctor. I gained insight into the clinical, financial, and political aspects of being a doctor, such as how the medical school process works from the MCAT to residency, the financial burdens of being a physician and how to deal with it, and acquiring proper physician’s insurance. Additionally, something else that I learned is the value of black spaces. Being at Howard Medical School (one of the most prestigious HBCU’s in the country) really gave me insight into this.
Being a young black person aspiring to go into a conservative, predominantly white field, I was inspired by the sight of black doctors, med students, and other professionals in the medical field. The best part about being in the presence of black medical professionals was that they not only genuinely cared about us, but could also relate to us. It was literally as if everywhere you turned someone believed in you, and that meant volumes to me because we live in a in a world in which people that look like me are constantly told they aren’t good enough to become things like doctors.”
What advice would you give to a Philadelphia Futures collegian who is considering participating in a summer academic program?
“If you are considering applying to medical school or physician assistant school or any clinical health program, this summer program is a MUST. The program is now called SHPEP—Summer Health Professionals Education Program because it has expanded its scope. The application opens on November 1st of every year and closes on March 1st. There is an early application deadline to apply on February 1st and I highly recommend applying by this date because the earlier you apply the better your chances. This program was really one the best things that I have every participated in, and I am sure that you would feel the same!”
We’re so grateful to Will for sharing this positive and exciting experience with us. In just a few short weeks, he’ll be off to make more amazing college memories as he spends the upcoming winter break studying abroad in Australia! Safe travels, Will!
If you’re a Philadelphia Futures Collegian who’d like to share one of your most interesting college experiences, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.