Med students mentor high schoolers interested in health care careers.
Sarah Varela has known since the seventh grade that she wanted to be a doctor. Specifically, a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“My aunt had a rare heart problem, and I got to meet the doctor who did the surgery,” the 17-year-old says.
Varela is a senior at William M. Davies, Jr. Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, RI, and one of 50 local high school students who participated last year in the Pathways Mentorship Program at the Warren Alpert Medical School.
The program, which was started in 2013 by a group of medical students, connects high schoolers with mentors from the Medical School, the University of Rhode Island nursing and pharmacy schools, and the Bryant University physician assistant program. The program works primarily with students in underserved populations who have a significant interest in the health care field.
“We want to make sure we’re reaching out to people we can make a difference with,” says Samantha Paul ’16 MD’20, Varela’s mentor last year.
Pathways meets during the fall semester for monthly hands-on health care activities and one-on-one mentoring time. The program concludes in January with a student research presentation.
“I liked being able to go inside the Medical School,” Varela says. “My favorite part was the anatomy lab.”
Because Varela did so well in the Pathways program, Paul knew she would be perfect for the Brown Pre-College Programs, specifically Summer@Brown, which offers courses for high school students on the University campus for one to four weeks.
The Brown School of Professional Studies, which administers the portfolio of programs for middle and high
school students, frequently partners with organizations that support students from low-income backgrounds, says Joi-Danelle Whitehead, associate director of Pre-College Programs and Diversity Initiatives.
A partnership between Pathways and the SPS Pre-College Programs was established to further support local students interested in pursuing careers in health care fields. Varela was one of six mentees from Pathways this year who received full scholarships to participate in Summer@Brown. Students could choose from any of the 50 courses related to medical and health studies. A few are taught at the Medical School, including “The Body: An Introduction to Human Anatomy and Physiology,” “Hands-On Medicine: A Week in the Life of a Medical Student,” and “Introduction to Medicine: Do You Want to Be a Doctor?”, which is cotaught by Associate Dean of Medicine Julianne Ip ’75 MD’78 RES’81, P’18 and Director of the Anatomy Course Dale Ritter, PhD. The partnership between Pathways and the Pre-College Programs “aligns with the University’s commitment to the local community and increasing access to students from historically underrepresented groups in higher education,” Whitehead says.
It also supports academically talented students as they explore future careers in medical or health-related fields, says Abbey Aevazelis, associate director of Pre-College Programs and director of STEM Programs.
While participation in the Pathways and the Pre-College programs are no guarantee of future admission to Brown University, these experiences provide a unique opportunity for local students to experience personal growth and academic success at a selective institution, Aevazelis says. “It would be wonderful if this was the start of a long journey with Brown,” she says.
Pathways mentors can help mentees decide whether to apply to medical school and guide them through the application process, mentor Kimberly Glerum ’15 MD’20 says.
Varela is now looking into summer internships and exploring colleges. Of the Pathways program, she says, “It made me want to be a doctor even more.”