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Summer Enrichment Program leads diverse students on path to medical school

  Summer Enrichment Program Class of 2016 members (from left) Rodney Bruno, Iva Hoxha and Alex Mills with Associate Professor of Medicine and UMMS admissions committee member Maria Garcia, MD, MPH (second from right).

Summer Enrichment Program Class of 2016 members (from left) Rodney Bruno, Iva Hoxha and Alex Mills with Associate Professor of Medicine and UMMS admissions committee member Maria Garcia, MD, MPH (second from right).

A toothache led UMass Amherst senior Alex Mills to experience disparities in health care firsthand. The aspiring medical student’s only option was having the tooth removed because as a MassHealth recipient, his Massachusetts Medicaid plan would not cover the cost of a root canal and crown.

“Medicine is for me because someone has to make sure poor people get good health care, which I learned can be difficult from my own experience with MassHealth,” said Mills, a member of the UMass Medical School Summer Enrichment Program’s Class of 2016.

Challenging for anyone, gaining admission to medical school is especially daunting for students from economically disadvantaged homes and backgrounds underrepresented in medicine. Now in its fourth decade, the Summer Enrichment Program is one of several educational opportunities UMass Medical School hosts each summer with the goal of increasing the number of individuals from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds in the health care workforce.

This year the program welcomed 20 high-performing college upperclassmen to learn what it takes to achieve a goal, which, while ambitious, is eminently achievable for students with their talent and drive.

“This experience has been life-changing,” said Iva Hoxha, a rising senior at Clark University whose family emigrated from Albania in 2010 when she was 15. “The guidance they have given us is telling us like it is: This is medical school and wanting it and doing it is not the same thing. They aren’t trying to make it scary for us, they are telling us the truth that if we want to do this for the rest of our lives it is a really big commitment.”

Hoxha also participated in the UMMS High School Health Careers Program while attending Worcester’s South High School. Her passion for patient care was sparked by her father, an anesthesiologist in Albania, who brought his family to the United States for better educational opportunities.

The immersive summer enrichment program combines challenging academics; stimulating community and cultural health seminars, real-world shadowing experiences in UMass Memorial Medical Center’s level-one emergency department; face-to-face interactions with UMMS faculty, admissions personnel and medical students; rigorous MCAT practice; and mock admissions interviews. The packed dawn-to-dusk schedule jolted class members with reality checks on time management, study skills and personal presentation.

“It was surprising—and eventually empowering—to accomplish so much in so little time,” said Rodney Bruno, a rising junior at UMass Boston who is the son of Haitian immigrants and the first in his family to attend college. “We all brought our A game, but this redefined what my A game is, making me not just a better medical school applicant but a better person.”

Also unexpectedly valuable for many was the program’s emphasis on English language and reading comprehension skills.

“One of the biggest things I learned from the program is how important reading comprehension is for a science major, which we often overlook,” said Mills. “It taught me that being good at deductive logic, not just science, is the most important thing for being a doctor. It doesn’t matter how good you are at biology if you can’t connect the dots.” Mills is majoring in nutrition science, which he intends to integrate into primary care practice, and plans to earn a master’s in the discipline before applying to medical school.

On Friday, June 24, the students will present their health disparity research projects and receive awards for excellence in the presence of their families and program leaders at the graduation ceremony taking place from 10 a.m. to noon in Amphitheater III.

Summer Enrichment Program Class of 2016

Linda Adubofour Dufie, Holy Cross ‘18

Thalita Borges, Framingham State University ‘17

Rodney Bruno, UMass Boston ‘18*

Clever Chaves, Fitchburg State University ‘18

Amberly Diep, UMass Amherst ‘18*

Sarah Ferreira, UMass Amherst ‘18*

Gabriela Garcia, UMass Amherst ‘17

Kimberly Germain, Holy Cross ‘17

Iva Hoxha, Clark University ‘17

Sendy Lamour, UMass Boston ‘18*

Duyen Le, UMass Lowell ‘18*

Marcus McKenzie, UMass Amherst ‘18*

Alex Mills, UMass Amherst ‘17

Deborah Miranda Caldeira, UMass Boston ‘17

Maria Nammour, UMass Lowell ‘18*

Brian Nguyen, UMass Lowell ‘18*

Ashley Nwaford, UMass Dartmouth ‘18

Shama Patel, Ohio State University ‘18

Janet Wangoe, UMass Amherst

Hadiya Williams, UMass Amherst*

*UMass BaccMD Medical Scholars

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