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Preparing Students for Success on Medical Career Paths

It's hard to anticipate your next step if you've never done something before, or even seen someone go through it. The prospect of graduating - high school, college, medical school - can be daunting if you're going through it alone or unassisted, if you’re the first generation to pursue a degree, or if you’re trying to counteract the growing educational gaps between high- and low-income students. A series of Penn Medicine programs are all aimed at confronting the steep learning curve and helping smooth the way at every step - applications, financial aid, matriculation and beyond - and collectively demonstrate one professor's ongoing efforts to break down barriers along the way.

Roy Hamilton, MD, assistant professor of Neurology and director of Pipeline Initiatives for the Perelman School of Medicine's Council for Diversity and Inclusion, has cultivated a handful of education and outreach programs that extend from high school through medical school and residency. Through exposure, mentorship, and education, his efforts are helping to prepare students before they get to the next step, so they can anticipate and succeed along the way. 

MLK Interfaith award57E9F
Dr. Roy Hamilton (3rd from left) receives 2013 University of Pennsylvania Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Award for Community Service.

For all his efforts to educate and help young people advance to next stage of their career , Dr. Hamilton recently was awarded the 2013 University's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Award for Community Service. Dr. Hamilton was selected among the many nominees for the award, which reflects exemplary work that people do across the University for members in their communities, going above and beyond their job description.

"Many students of any level with disadvantaged backgrounds don't know the game when they start playing it," said Dr. Hamilton. "We're collectively trying to help students and trainees overcome the barriers that separate them from success when they transition from one step of career to the next."

In the Penn Medicine Educational Pipeline program, students at Sayre High School in West Philadelphia go through a multi-tiered mentorship program. In partnership with Penn's Netter Center for Community Partnerships, Penn undergraduates spend the fall semester tutoring students on health and science at Sayre High School. In the spring, approximately 20 high schoolers most interested in health-related issues and medical science are invited to come to the Penn campus for an after school program in medical school lab and classrooms in an immersive experience mimicking what it's like to be at the Perelman School of Medicine. For some, it's the first time they've set foot on campus, even though they’ve grown up just blocks away. The spring semester gives an opportunity for medical students to teach the high schoolers about specific topics and systems-related material in medicine (such as the brain or gastrointestinal system), while exposing teens to what could be future steps in their education.

In the summer, a mentorship program run by the Penn Provost's office draws high school students from across the Philadelphia School District. This program was modeled in part after the Penn Medicine Educational Pipeline program and was initially started with three professional school partners from across the University, including Medicine. Now, more of Penn's professional schools each have their own programs. In this program, 12-15 students are selected to come to the Perelman School of Medicine all day throughout the summer for an immersive medical school experience. A strong shadowing portion pairs students with physicians in their particular area of interest.

For medical students in the Perelman School of Medicine, Dr. Hamilton and colleagues host an academic career seminar series that shows students the steps along various different career paths. This shows the variations in experiences, even for people on a similar path, that help the students prepare for residencies, specialties and careers in research, education and or clinical care.

"This series allows us to share what we wish we'd known when starting our medical careers, and what we would do differently during medical school to develop accordingly," explains Dr. Hamilton. "Even in the same medical specialty, a basic scientist leads a very different life than an academic clinician. We bring in faculty from variety of career paths, and show the medical students what the currency of success is for that person and field."

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