UF hosts unique program to excite minority students about health care careers

By Kelly Sobers

Student Chantel Nelson helps SHPEP scholars during a surgery-focused learning experience.

Veterinary medical student Chantel Nelson, second from left, helps SHPEP scholars during a learning experience in the Clinical Skills Lab. (Photo by Kelly Sobers)

It started with a White Coat Ceremony in May and ended with a Pinning Ceremony in June, and the six weeks in between offered life-altering experiences and unprecedented access to educational resources at the University of Florida for 80 underrepresented and minority undergraduate college students from California to Vermont, Minnesota to Texas, and New York to Puerto Rico.

While everyone is created equal, a variety of factors can prevent equal access and exposure to academic resources for young adults from communities and families of social, economic and educational disadvantage  including those interested in health professions education.

Enter the University of Florida Summer Health Professions Education Program, or UF SHPEP, which made its debut on the UF academic health center campus this summer. Funded by a $415,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, or RWJF, plus in-kind donations from the six health-related colleges, the free residential program focused on improving access to health professions, information and resources for freshmen and sophomores from 54 colleges and universities across the country, including eight from UF.

Dr. David Baekey with SHPEP students

Dr. David Baekey helps SHPEP students interpret images they are viewing on a computer screen during a learning session held in the Clinical Skills Lab. As part of their experience, the group participated in a digital histology lab and were exposed to several images using Aperio digital microscopy software. In this case, the students are viewing a longitudinal cut of a developing dog “toe,” demonstrating how bones grow, Baekey said. (Photo by Jesse Jones)

“For the first time, many of these students interacted with, and learned from, health care professionals who look like them and are doing the jobs they want to do,” said Michelle Jacobs, M.D., assistant dean for diversity and health equity in the UF College of Medicine. “There are a lot of underrepresented students out there who have not seen someone who looks like them in their field of interest.”

Several faculty members from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, along with a group of veterinary medical students, were involved in making the UFCVM’s component of the program a success. The young scholars visited the college twice, first learning about career paths and preadmission information, then about veterinary cardiology and ending with a “future surgeon experience” offered by the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program that allowed them to learn more about veterinary surgical techniques.

Participating UFCVM faculty members included Drs. Amara Estrada, Kelly Harrison, Rick Johnson, Julia Wuerz, Amy Stone, David Baekey, Stan Kim, Julie Levy, Larry Garcia, Dan Brown, Mary Brown, Amanda House and Iske Larkin.

The unique opportunity was not lost on the appreciative SHPEP students.

SHPEP students after a successful surgery lab.

Students from the SHPEP program join UFCVM faculty, staff and students in a group shot during a session focusing on surgical techniques held in the Clinical Skills Lab. (Photo by Kelly Sobers)

“This program was something special for every one of us,” Hector Rivera Orozco, a pre-med student from the University of Puerto Rico, said. “We were able to shadow physicians and build networks with admissions representatives. Although we are minorities, I know that all of my friends in this program are going to be the next generation of health care professionals because this program gave us the necessary tools to accomplish our goals.”

Formerly known as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, SHPEP expanded in 2016 to include a broader array of health professions and now has 13 program sites nationwide as part of the RWJF’s mission to build a national culture of health.

Four main career pathways formed the interdisciplinary, interprofessional curriculum at UF’s SHPEP site: dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, and public health and health professions. There also were closer-look segments in nursing, physician assistant studies and veterinary medicine.

The big-picture emphasis was interprofessional education and an understanding of how each profession fits into the health care field globally, said Dr. Amy Blue, associate dean for educational affairs at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, and associate vice president for interprofessional education at UF Health.

Dr. Patty Probert, assistant dean for the Office of Student Advocacy & Inclusion in the UF College of Dentistry, was the principal investigator on the RWJF grant. She led a diverse group of around 20 faculty and staff members representing all six UF Health colleges that formed in October 2016 after UF received the RWJF grant. Like the SHPEP students, the team gelled throughout the program.

“Working with faculty and staff from all of the UF Health academic colleges was life changing,” Probert reflected. “We are all in our own silos, but this collaboration made the University of Florida a better institution, and as a byproduct will positively influence our interdisciplinary and interprofessional relations.”

The team developed the admissions process, the curriculum components, programming, operational details and much more. With a total operating budget of $905,000, the UF SHPEP program covered travel, transportation, food and on-campus room and board for all participants, who were selected by the faculty and staff admissions subcommittee through an application process in spring 2017.

The 80 students, known as scholars, got intense exposure to academic health, but SHPEP offered much more. They learned about health care opportunities in the Air Force, Army and Navy; they attended a college stress and coping workshop; and they learned about community outreach with HealthStreet, a College of Medicine, College of Public Health and Health Professions and UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute community engagement program.

SHPEP even provided modules in career and study skill development, leadership and communication skills, health policy education, financial literacy, and civil rights. Mock admissions interviews and essays, hands-on clinical experiences, didactic and clinical interaction with faculty from the six health colleges empowered students to believe they can accomplish goals they didn’t know were possible.

The curriculum included participation in dentistry’s Impressions Program, a chance to shadow physicians in an operating room, a toxicology and poison control workshop, and listening to heartbeats on simulation manikins in the Nursing Resource Center. Scholars also practiced surgical techniques at the veterinary college, and learned the many roles of a pharmacist, prescription-writing specifics, the science behind drugs, and the rigor of being a physician assistant.

Access to UF faculty and staff was one of the many benefits of SHPEP, but the program went a step further: It gave scholars a chance to spend time with minority UF students with similar backgrounds, in a health profession they aspire to join.

The scholars were not alone in recognizing the value of the mentoring.

“This program and the experiences are so beneficial,” said Chantel Nelson, a UF veterinary medical student. “I wish I would have had a program like this to help guide me during undergrad.”

Now in her fourth year of veterinary school, Nelson relished the opportunity to spend a summer Sunday morning working with the next generation of health care professionals during the SHPEP veterinary medicine future surgeon experience.

At the program’s end, SHPEP left some scholars toggling between aspirations of being a veterinarian or a physician assistant, changed some minds from pharmacy to nursing, and opened other eyes to health care professions they never knew existed. Most importantly, the program provided all of the students a voice for themselves and the confidence to advocate for their needs, a multitude of tools and resources for successful application to and matriculation into health professions education.

“Aside from making an immediate difference in the lives of these students, from a global perspective, this program backs a very important movement in health care disparities,” said Dr. Frank Catalanotto, professor in the UF Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science. “We need more underrepresented health care professionals.”

For more information about the program, visit our website.




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November-December 2017

Student Chantel Nelson helps SHPEP scholars during a surgery-focused learning experience.

UF hosts unique program to excite minority students about health care careers

The UFCVM participated in a unique learning opportunity for minority students aiming for careers in health professions.

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