Students without doctors in their families band together for support.
Medical school can be a daunting, ceaseless flow of information for new students— something anyone with physicians in the family may already know. But the understanding and guidance of those family members often helps ease the shock and burden of the experience.
For physicians-in-training who are the first in their families to don the white coat, however, no one at home truly gets what they’re going through, and may be unable to offer relevant advice in the face of overwhelming challenges. This can leave students feeling alone and adrift.
Stana Nickolich MD’23 and Tanisha Verneus ’18 MD’22 wanted to help fellow first-generation med students avoid the isolation they’d experienced. So last year they founded First-Gen @ AMS to cultivate a community of peers and offer catered support and mentorship.
While the need for mentorship escalates throughout one’s path to medicine, the programming designed to help first-generation students fades, explains Associate Dean for Student Affairs Roxanne Vrees ’98 MD’03 RES’07, faculty adviser for the group and herself a first generation med student.
Nickolich and Verneus say their group helps first-generation college and medical students find each other, as it can otherwise be challenging to learn each other’s background.
“[I] really wanted to create that space where I could find people who are like me, who are having these struggles similar to mine, who I could connect with and speak to about those experiences without feeling so isolated,” Verneus says.
Since the group formed, “I’ve felt a sense of belonging,” Nickolich adds.
They also hoped to create an opportunity for students to access mentors, research, and education beyond the classroom that’s unique to their experiences. As a first-generation medical student, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” Nickolich says.
First-Gen @ AMS had to start up virtually amid COVID-19, but, making the most of it, they arranged Zoom socials and launched a mentorship program between students and first-generation physicians, Verneus says. They hope to organize more in-person activities this year.
The leaders also intend to ramp up recruitment and reach out to affinity groups at the Medical School and similar organizations at the college. The leaders also want to understand the challenges that first-generation medical students encounter, “to really hone into what these struggles are and how we can get rid of those barriers,” Verneus says, and enhance their education.
They hope their group draws in prospective students searching for this support. “We want first-gen students to come find us … we want physicians in the Brown community to also come find us … and we can connect them with each other because the first-gen experience does not stop when you become an MD,” Verneus says. “We’ve learned that the challenges continue at every step along the path.” For first-generation medical students, “our experiences are different,” she adds, “but we’re working to change that.”