Students at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine have made it their mission to connect underrepresented and disadvantaged youth to opportunities in healthcare professions.
Through the School of Medicine’s MedLink mentorship program, current medical students introduce high school students to the world of health sciences through a series of Saturday workshops. “They are really targeting first-generation [to attend college], low-income, and educationally disadvantaged individuals,” says Latasha Mitchell, MedLink program coordinator.
In 2002, disappointed by the lack of diversity in health professions, several UCSF medical students developed the program with the goal of meaningfully engaging with high school students from diverse backgrounds.
MedLink accepts high school sophomores from populations underrepresented in the medical field who are interested in exploring health careers. “The goal of the program is really to expose the high school student to the possibility of going into the health science field,” Mitchell says. “We want to get them on track at an early age.”
The workshops are held monthly, November through April. Mentors not only introduce participants to topics within medicine and health sciences, but also help them with skill building and preparing for college and careers.
Since MedLink’s inception, the number of participating high school students has increased from just 12 in the program’s first year to more than 100 in the 2011-2012 school year. Over the last 10 years, more than 300 medical students have served more than 500 high school students through the program.
Mitchell believes the program helps create meaningful connections for both parties.
“It gives [high school students] the confidence that they can navigate these processes so that they can go into graduate-level education and health professions,” she says. “Also, for the medical students who participate, it provides them with an opportunity to be in contact with members from the local community and to engage in service learning.”
School of Dentistry Admits DREAMers
The UCSF School of Dentistry continues to build a diverse community of students by accepting two DREAMers into its Class of 2019.
Thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a U.S. immigration policy implemented by the Obama administration in June 2012, students José Carrasco Sandoval and Laura Aguilar can now pursue their dream of going to dental school.
The policy allows certain immigrants who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. These students are often referred to as DREAMers because they comprise most, though not all, of the individuals who meet the general requirements of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
Sandoval and Aguilar both grew up in northern California but came from different areas of Mexico. Sandoval’s parents came to Napa from Jalisco, Mexico, when he was 2 years old; Aguilar’s parents traveled from Guadalajara to Napa when she was 4.
“Students with diverse backgrounds, such as those with DACA status, bring an important component to the university,” says John D.B. Featherstone, dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry. “One of my highest priorities is that we do everything possible to open the doors to dental education for the best and the brightest, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds.”●
Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity.