HARTFORD, CT: Many children aspire to become doctors, dentists, or other medical professionals, but the road to these esteemed careers is not an easy one. People of color in particular are poorly represented in the medical field. To become successful medical professionals, students need encouragement and support throughout their educational careers. The University of Connecticut Health Center offers numerous programs to support students in pursuing careers in health and medicine, and we should encourage our students to take advantage of them.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with Kerry-Ann Stewart, PhD, assistant director of the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative (HPPI) at the UCONN Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs. We discussed the programs offered by HPPI for middle school, high school, and college students. These programs are geared toward “underrepresented, disadvantaged, or first generation college students applying to medical school, dental school, or graduate programs in the biomedical sciences or other health professions.”
Starting in middle school, students can enroll in programs that expose them to medical professions through the Great Explorations Doctors Academy. In high school, there are multiple opportunities for students to take courses that will increase their college-readiness. Once students are accepted into college, HPPI offers research fellowships and preparatory programs to ensure students are ready to apply for medical or graduate school.
Last spring, I met with students participating in the HPPI Junior Doctors Academy at the UConn Greater Hartford Campus. This program is for high school juniors and seniors interested in medicine, dental medicine, or biomedical research. The Academy includes a 6-week summer program and a 30-week Saturday program throughout the academic year where students take classes focusing on college preparation as well as enrichment courses that expose them to laboratory work.
An important piece of the Health Professions Partnership Initiative is mentoring from UCONN medical and graduate students. There are opportunities for mentoring in both high school and college programs, along with chances for students to learn hands-on in UCONN Health laboratories. When students see themselves represented in the medical field, they gain confidence in their own ability to succeed.
Together, these programs create a pipeline that supports students from that first spark of academic interest through applying to undergraduate and graduate programs in the medical field. This initiative provides additional opportunities for our youth in order to help more students become successful in the health and medical field. I urge both students and parents to visit the UCONN Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs website at www.hcop.uchc.edu to learn more about these important programs.