For students, summer is typically associated with freedom from schoolwork. But for a handful of future medical school applicants, summertime means hitting the books, conducting research and participating in rounds.
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) is hosting four college sophomores this summer as part of its “short pipeline” program, designed to encourage underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students who wish to pursue medical education and to give a direct path for admission to VUSM.
VUSM established a formal agreement with Morehouse College and Spelman College in Atlanta, Fisk University in Nashville, and Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, to provide opportunities for disadvantaged undergraduate students during summer, to prepare them to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and provide experience with research.
“We have a formal agreement in place that each of those students will come to Vanderbilt each summer for research and science enrichment and will be paired with medical students and faculty mentors who will be available for them not only when they are here, but when they are back at their home institutions to mentor them,” said program director Kimberly Vinson, M.D., assistant dean for Diversity Affairs.
“If they successfully participate and complete all program requirements each of the summers, maintain a certain GPA and receive a certain percentile score on the MCAT, they will automatically be admitted to VUSM after they graduate.”
The first cohort started this summer and met for a biology and chemistry enrichment class every morning for two hours. The remainder of their time is spent working with a mentor on a research project.
“The short-pipeline program is one of many activities at VUSM that reflect our commitment to the principle of social mission,” said André Churchwell, M.D., Chief Diversity Officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs for VUSM.
“The AAMC leadership and our HBCU colleagues both at the college and medical school levels have highlighted the declining number of African-American students finishing STEM majors and going on to medical school. We feel that given our national leadership roles in curriculum development and diversity, it is important for us to address this problem,” Churchwell said.
Vinson is also the program director for the Undergraduate Clinical Research Internship Program (UCRIP), which gives college students earning a four-year degree the opportunity to participate in both research and clinical care at Vanderbilt. UCRIP has existed at Vanderbilt for 15 years, with Vinson at the helm for the last five.
“UCRIP is primarily for pre-med students who are planning on medical school to earn an M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. The main component is research over nine weeks,” Vinson said.
Students are paired with a research mentor to complete or contribute to a research project that can be basic science, clinical, translational or health policy in nature. They are also paired with internal medicine teams, with whom they make patient rounds two mornings each week.
Vinson typically receives 600 to 800 applications for seven to 10 spots in the program.
“As I go through applications, I am looking for students who have shown they are academically serious about pursuing medicine; I am looking for students who have had some research experience; and I am looking for students who wouldn’t necessarily have opportunities for research in an academic medical center,” Vinson said. “Some students come from smaller colleges and don’t have a large academic medical center nearby or an affiliation with one.”
Although UCRIP is not a program whose primary focus is to attract underrepresented minorities, Vinson does consider diversity when selecting students, she said.
“Kids from all over the country are applying. It is not specifically a diversity program, but I am looking for applicants who do have layers of diversity.”
UCRIP gives undergraduate students a better idea of what doctors do and allows them to look at medicine through a different lens, with an emphasis on the role that research can play in patient care while providing valuable observational experience that most medical schools want to see on applications.
“Shadowing doctors gives them a new insight into what medicine looks like in residency. That’s very important,” she said.
In addition to observing physicians and participating in research, the students attend weekly seminars led by medical school administrators who talk about different aspects of medicine, medical school and the admissions process.
“I’m grateful to Kim for leading these important programs. While they differ in their focus, their goals are the same – to nurture undergraduate students for future success as medical school applicants and medical students, especially those who otherwise might not have access to enrichment opportunities,” said Bonnie Miller, M.D., MMHC, Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education, VUSM, and Executive Vice President for Educational Affairs, VUMC.
“We hope that these programs will continue to enhance diversity not only in our own medical school class, but in our future physician workforce.”