With tough classes and a culture of support, a master’s program prepares the doctors of tomorrow.
The transition to college and living away from home for the first time can be difficult for many students. But Jared Boyce ScM’21 faced more obstacles than most when he started at Dartmouth.
“My family was going through some personal challenges during my college years that definitely complicated my undergraduate experience,” says Boyce, who grew up on Long Island. Not wanting to burden his family financially, he found multiple campus jobs. Further, with an inadequate financial aid package, the tuition burden fell squarely on his parents. Each term he wondered, “How are we going to pay this tuition bill so that I can actually enroll in my classes?” he recalls. “The dependency on loans brought about tremendous stress that weighed heavily on me and took a toll emotionally and, at times, academically.”
Boyce planned to major in neuroscience, then pursue a joint MD/PhD. So the first time he met with his academic adviser he had an agenda: get tips on study habits, time management skills, balancing work and school.
“Instead, my adviser used that entire half-hour meeting to discourage me from my major, pursuing medicine, or even a career in the sciences,” says Boyce, who is Black. Faculty—most of them white—continued to dissuade him, nearly until he graduated; each term, Boyce says, more and more minority students turned away from STEM under similar pressure. “I’d been burnt so often, by advisers in many different positions since high school, that I had grown almost accustomed to it,” he adds.
After unsuccessfully applying to medical school, while taking classes and working full-time as a researcher, Boyce looked into special master’s programs, which help students boost their academic credentials to apply for medical school. When he found Brown’s one-year program, Gateways to Medicine, Health Care, and Research, he knew it was the place for him.
“I could tell from that interview that [the faculty] were all going to be really great professors, but also great mentors. They really cared about my success,” he says.
After years of discouragement, he heard something new: validation. “I remember Dr. A saying, if you choose not to come, that’s fine. But we need you, people like you, to become physicians and physician-scientists. Don’t give up on that dream.” Dr. A, as Gowri Anandarajah, MD, Gateways’ director and creator, is fondly called by her students, sees a lot of applications from bright students with impressive clinical or research experience, clear passion and dedication, yet test scores, grades, or other metrics that don’t meet most medical schools’ admissions criteria.
“Numbers don’t tell the full story,” Anandarajah says. Many aspiring doctors have the academic ability, but life gets in the way—economic hardships, family illnesses—or they lack the guidance or resources to successfully apply to med school. But, she argues, it’s those perceived disadvantages that can bode well for a career in medicine.
“Sometimes people who have stumbled but have picked themselves up, learned from their challenges, and emerged resilient and determined, have the potential to make outstanding physicians, scientists, educators, and advocates,” Anandarajah says. “We have seen this firsthand in so many of our students who have thrived here at Gateways and continue to thrive in medical schools across the country.”
After Boyce earned his Master of Science in Medical Sciences, Gateways advisers continued to help him as he refined his applications and personal statements. He received multiple acceptances to MD/PhD programs, and is now in his first year of the University of Wisconsin’s eight-year Medical Scientist Training Program. “I can’t express how thankful I am, having gone through [Gateways], because it truly did help me get to where I am now,” he says.
Many US medical schools offer premed master’s degree programs, but none, Anandarajah believes, is quite like Gateways. When Brown launched the program in 2017, her goal was not only to diversify the physician workforce—leveling the playing field for those underrepresented in medicine—but also to attract students who are dedicated to caring for underserved populations.
“The whole program—the curriculum, holistic admissions process, and advising system—was designed for this,” says Anandarajah, a professor of family medicine and of medical science. Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Mukesh K. Jain, MD, says Gateways is “successful because it approached what could have been just another special master’s program from a different perspective. Instead of making students prove they are fit for medicine, the Gateways faculty recognize each student’s talent and potential and are invested in helping them develop into successful candidates for careers in medicine, health care, or research.”
Torie Livingston ScM’18 matriculated with the very first Gateways class. She’d had her life planned out—Division I volleyball, career in sports journalism—when her great aunt was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Livingston learned her aunt distrusted doctors, and put off going until it was too late.
“That struck me really hard,” Livingston says. Deciding she could make a difference for future Black patients, she transferred to the University of Georgia in her junior year and started pre-med classes. But she struggled to catch up. Her adviser saw her GPA and told her to forget med school and “look at other options,” she says.
One of those options was Gateways. Anandarajah remembers reading her application “and thinking, she’s so cool.” To her, Livingston’s background as an athlete demonstrated hard work and determination; the risk she took by changing course showed her passion. “She’s somebody we want to work with,” Anandarajah remembers thinking.
Gateways tests its students with a rigorous curriculum that includes first-year medical school biomedical science courses and anatomy lab, yet in a supportive environment with individualized advising, collaborative learning, and an emphasis on teamwork. Livingston says the Gateways faculty “believed in me so much it was ridiculous.” They taught her better study habits and how to do research. “Gateways
was a big confidence boost,” she says.
“When you find the right support system, magic happens. That was Gateways for me,” says Priscila Cevallos ScM’18, who as an immigrant from Brazil had “faced countless rejections” and was told repeatedly to abandon her dream of becoming a doctor. “I had never had that sort of mentorship before that allowed me to flourish.”
Cevallos is completing a one-year research fellowship in Stanford’s Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, then will return to Dartmouth for her fourth year of medical school. The unprecedented guidance and support she got at Gateways made it all possible, she says. “Dr. Anandarajah … inspires me to be such a mentor for those coming after me.”
Livingston, now at the University of Florida, also paused her medical studies after her third year, to earn her MPH. She got interested in policy and public health at Gateways, which includes a series of courses delving into topics like social determinants of health, medical ethics, and patient advocacy; and service learning and research focused on care of vulnerable patients.
“Our curriculum is so heavily invested in the care of underserved populations that [students]wouldn’t be able to tolerate it unless they had some passion for it,” Anandarajah says.
Indeed, alumni say that’s one reason they chose Gateways over similar programs. “Dr. A did a great job attracting like-minded individuals who really want to give back to their communities,” Cevallos says. “The opportunity … to work with the community at large, I think that’s very unique to this master’s program.” Nicole Hinz ScM’22 adds that learning about social determinants of health “completely changed the way that I think about medicine… and plan to practice health care.”
Graduates also appreciate the program’s rigor. In one year, Gateways students take science courses and exams alongside medical students, shadow at community primary care settings, complete a capstone project at their clinical sites, and present their projects to faculty and peers. Boyce says after the first day of classes at Wisconsin, many of his friends “were panicking … like, oh, my god, this is so much information. Which it is. I get that. But I’d already gone through that shock.”
“It’s boot camp with love,” Anandarajah says with a laugh. “We will support [students]in every way that we can. … But they have to fly. They have to do the work.”
And fly they do. In the program’s first five years, 93 percent of graduates applied to medical school; of those, 92 percent were accepted, including at the most competitive programs in the country. Others pursued degrees in public health, bioethics, biomedical engineering, even law, or careers in health care or research. Just over one-third of all 177 students so far identify as underrepresented in medicine, and 12 percent are first-generation college students.
India Rogers-Shepp ScM’19, now in her third year at Stanford, is the daughter of artists (and granddaughter of jazz legend Archie Shepp). With no one at home to help navigate the medical field, “Gateways provided an opportunity for me to really forge those connections,” she says—and to do so independently. “It’s up to you to seek them out.”
Gateways students and alums have become an integral part of the University. Many, like Rogers-Shepp, join medical student groups; she was also the first Gateways student to serve on Brown’s Graduate Student Council. Meanwhile
Tyler Harder ScM’19 MD’23 became the program’s first representative to the Medical Student Senate, after speaking at a meeting about the restrictions on med school resources that Gateways students faced in the program’s beginning.
“It was a little bumpy at first,” he says. “But the [medical]students got on board with us,” passing bills to further integrate Gateways students into the School.
Harder served three years on the Senate as a medical student, including a year as president. “I enjoy every aspect of solving these problems,” he says—so much so that he’s considering an administrative fellowship after his emergency medicine residency at Harvard.
Many Gateways alumni have taken on leadership roles or devoted time to research or advocacy in their first year of med school because they’re familiar with much of the coursework. “By no means was it doing it on easy mode,” Harder clarifies; he still had to study, and the Doctoring course was all new. But, like Boyce, he knew what to expect and even shared study tips with classmates. “Gateways really prepared me,” says Harder, who was the first in his family to go to college.
“What a lot of med students go through in the first semester is imposter syndrome, and they don’t know how to study,” says Amy Chew, PhD, director of Gateways’ basic science curriculum and anatomy course. “Our students get all that out of the way.”
Gateways also nurtures their passions for advocacy and activism. Livingston recalls how her classmates organized to call their Congress members when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was rescinded in 2017. “I had never been around people who do that,” she says. The experience got her interested in politics. In 2020, she joined a local organization to register Gainesville citizens, including fellow med students, to vote, and she’s continued that work each election cycle. “It’s become something that I’m very passionate about,” she says.
Rogers-Shepp says a lecture about how housing can affect someone’s health motivated her, in the year between Gateways and medical school, to volunteer with a homelessness advocacy group and collect data for a housing nonprofit on how COVID impacted the homeless population and how supportive housing could save lives—research she’s still pursuing for her scholarly concentration in Community Health. “That has really carried me through,” she says.
Christopher Koehler ScM’18 MD’22 RES’26 was the first Gateways graduate to matriculate into The Warren Alpert Medical School. While most alums take a year off after their master’s to retake the MCAT and apply to med schools, Koehler applied to Brown while he was still in the program, and was admitted off the waitlist. He thrived—and is now a resident in Brown’s emergency medicine program.
“The Gateways alumni here are leaders and really, really top students,” says Star Hampton, MD, the senior associate dean for medical education. She says Anandarajah, with her 30 years in medical education, including as director of the family medicine residency program, has “a unique understanding of what it takes to be a mature and good physician.”
Gateways’ academic intensity, combined with its supportive structure, “fosters the kind of doctors we want them to be: collaborative, team-playing doctors,” Anandarajah says. It also fosters lifelong friendships, and a dedication to the program. Many, like Koehler, want to “give back … as a thank you,” he says, so as he began his first year of med school, he became the first Gateways alum to serve as a teaching assistant.
“One of my favorite parts of the program, aside from the smaller class size and personalized advising, were the TA sessions held by the Brown medical students,” Koehler says. The TAs would prepare “funny little mnemonics” that made lessons stick, he adds: “I wanted to give this experience to future Gateways students and give the same help I received.”
It turned out Koehler loved teaching—he was a Gateways TA for three years, tutored fellow med students, and now teaches both groups as a resident. “In terms of mastering the subject, they always say once you teach it, then you really understand it,” he says.
Chew says many Gateways graduates stay in the area to gain more research experience as they apply to medical school, while serving as tutors, TAs, or even junior faculty for the science courses. This year an alum is even helping her prepare prosections for anatomy lab.
“We’ve got this pool every year that we can draw from,” says Chew, who supervises the TAs. “It’s fantastic to have them because they’ve just done the curriculum, and they’re interested in not losing that” knowledge.
Nicole Hinz stayed in Providence to work as a research coordinator at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and a teaching associate at Gateways. Last year she cofounded the Big Siblings program, in which alums mentor current students; then in the summer, she helped organize
Gateways’ first reunion.
“It felt like a great start to a tradition of having new students come in and meet all of the alumni … and create the environment that Gateways uniquely has,” says Hinz, who is the first Gateways board member of the Brown Medical Alumni Association.
“One of the things that I love the most about Gateways is the camaraderie, the community that just being in Gateways brings,” Francisco Cordero ScM’23 says. He immigrated from Venezuela to Texas in high school and says he “didn’t really understand the landscape of [US] universities.” At Brown he finally found the mentors he’d never had—including among his fellow students.
“We all help each other. We truly do,” he says. He’s met many alumni who help teach or, like Koehler, just stop by to say hi. “He checks in with us, even though he is a resident and he doesn’t have any time to himself,” Cordero says. The support goes both ways, as students celebrate alums’ med school acceptances: “We’re all invested in each other’s successes.”
For nearly 10 years, Cordero has worked at summer camps for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. The camps’ mission, he says, is to say “yes” to kids “who have been told ‘no’ all their life,” getting them on a zip line, or in a canoe, or whatever they want to do.
Like many Gateways students, Cordero repeatedly was told “no”—by admissions committees, by advisers, by peers. Then, at Brown, they finally hear “yes.”
“I have been very fortunate in [having]so many different folks investing in me,” Cordero says. “Whatever door opens, I have the certainty that I’ll be able to succeed.”