In a perfect world, anyone with the drive and motivation to become a doctor would pursue an unencumbered course. But it isn't a perfect world, and a medical education is a long, hard journey fraught with obstacles. It can take as long as 10 years, and the time demands can take their toll on relationships and sanity.

Underrepresented minorities and the economically disadvantaged often face additional hurdles that may prevent them from even getting through the front door. To respond to that challenge, the Minority Medical Education Program, a nationwide program that completed its second summer at P&S in 2002, was developed to offer college students not only the opportunity to get a taste of life as a medical student, but also the knowledge for laying the groundwork necessary to get into medical school.

“We teach the students what they need to strive for to get into medical school,” says Richele Jordan-Davis, director of the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity. “We tell them what it takes to be a medical student, what it takes to be a doctor.”

MMEP is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is a six-week academic enrichment program designed to give college students instruction in biomedical sciences and prepare them for the MCAT exam. Columbia P&S is one of 11 MMEP sites nationwide.

The credit for bringing MMEP to P&S, says Ms. Jordan-Davis, belongs to Dr. Gerald Thomson, the Lambert Professor of Medicine and the Robert Sonneborn Professor of Medicine and senior associate dean.

“It was his vision, and he prepared the grant proposal,” she says. “We want to see more minority students apply here.”

Getting into the 2002 summer program at P&S was not easy. An admissions committee examined more than 900 applications, evaluating each applicant’s science and overall GPA, personal statement, recommendation letters, and background in the sciences. Ultimately, 108 students were invited to participate. They came from all over the country. Some were in Ivy League colleges, including Columbia, some from state and city schools. Their reasons for wanting to spend a summer in an academic program and wanting to do it at P&S were as varied as their backgrounds. (See list of participants)

“A close friend told me about the MMEP program,” says Luis Rohena, now a junior at Columbia. “After hearing about all she learned and the fun things that the program incorporated, I knew I wanted to do this. I chose Columbia because I love New York and because I know the quality of the Columbia faculty.”

The desire to be a doctor is what prompted J. Salvador de la Cruz, a junior at Willamette University, a small liberal arts college in Salem, Ore., to apply. “A friend who did the program at the University of Washington told me about the MMEP. I chose Columbia because I knew its program had a surgery component, which is what I’m interested in.”

The program kicked off on Sunday, June 16, when the students moved into Bard Hall. They were welcomed by nine P&S students, all of whom had just completed their first year. They served double duty as resident and teaching assistants for the program.

Responsible for mentoring at least 12 students each, the RAs attended the classes and led study groups. They also served as preceptors, running labs and proctoring exams.

The RAs took their responsibilities very seriously. Says Nickie Niforatos’05: “I am the first person in my family to pursue medicine, and I’ve realized how much advice and direction and support are needed along the way. I’ve always considered myself lucky to have met the right people at the right times who have directed me and helped me to get here, so I jumped at the chance to let these students know what’s ahead, what to look out for, and where to turn to for more information and support.”

The MMEP curriculum, taught by a number of P&S faculty, was designed to provide a snapshot of the first year of medical school. “The coursework concentrated on the science involved in the practice of medicine,” says Ms. Jordan-Davis. “They learned about cell and tissue structure, focusing on one organ—the heart.”

“I really like the fact that Columbia’s MMEP uses the actual first-year syllabus,” says Taylor Pollock’05, one of the program’s RAs. “It’s important for the students to get an accurate idea of what their future studies might be like.”

The scientific coursework was complemented by Accelerated Learning Strategies, a program in which the students met twice a week to strengthen their learning, study, and test-taking strategies. Sessions were headed by Dr. Hilary Schmidt, assistant vice president and associate dean, Center for Education Research and Evaluation.

“The curriculum emphasizes the development of the most highly effective and efficient learning strategies,” says Dr. Schmidt. “There are many different ways that people can approach learning and studying, and some of those are not as effective as others. The methods we taught are ones that result in good long-term retention of information and the ability to problem solve.”

The accelerated learning classes incorporated what the students learned in their sciences classes. Dr. Schmidt and her team used that curriculum to teach students how to prepare for lectures, how to anticipate test questions, and how to study effectively. “Students from the first year’s program report that the strategies they learned in the sessions resulted in substantial improvement in GPAs when they returned to college,” says Dr. Schmidt. One student put it this way: “While in the program, I didn’t realize how effective your advice was, but as I used the skills you taught during my senior year of college, I found studying to be much easier and ended up receiving the best grades of my college career.”

Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology who was appointed associate dean for diversity and minority affairs about two weeks before the program began, says the biggest draw for MMEP applicants to Columbia was the extensive clinical experience, which offered students the opportunity to “shadow” physicians for part of a day. Each person in the program had at least five clinical experiences, observing procedures in surgery, labor and delivery, the emergency room, and other facilities.

“The clinical experiences were important because I wanted the students to be inspired by doctors who have made it and are in practice,” she says. “I think the experiences made them even more motivated to excel so that they could go to medical school. It gave them a sense of accomplishment.”

Marcel Green, a senior at Virginia Tech, came to Columbia’s MMEP to get a taste of what practicing medicine in an urban setting is like. “I participated in emergency room medicine, pediatrics, ward medicine, internal medicine, and the operating room,” he says. “These provided an excellent chance for me to get acquainted with medical practice within a large city. I met some very inspiring physicians, and I was grateful for the opportunity.”

Joy Igbokwe, now a sophomore at Princeton, says: “The clinical experience was my favorite part of the program. I got to shadow really wonderful doctors and learned from them how to behave. My favorite experience was watching a brain surgery.” Ms. Igbokwe was also a participant in the State Pre-College Enrichment Program, a Saturday academic enrichment program offered by the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity for high school students interested in medicine.

Before any of the clinical experiences, MMEP participants participated in a white coat ceremony similar to the one held for first-year students when they enter P&S. They watched a video that featured P&S students who shared the emotions involved with donning the white coat and reciting the Hippocratic Oath for the first time and what it means to be a Columbia medical student. Dr. Hutcherson described the symbolism of the coat—healing, cleanliness—before inviting the students to try them on.

MMEP students learned what it’s like to experience medical school as a minority student in a discussion with leaders of BALSO—the Black and Latino Students Organization. The group spoke candidly about obstacles they faced trying to get into medical school. Many, especially those who did not attend top undergraduate institutions, were discouraged from applying to P&S and were told they would never make it. This discussion underlined a theme that was very prevalent throughout the entire program: MMEP students were told time and again to not let others decide for them what they could and could not do.

“Many come in doubting themselves. They want to become doctors but had heard negative messages in the past about their abilities or what it takes,” says Dr. Hutcherson. “We wanted students to come away from the program with confidence.”

Raquel Peralta, a Washington Heights native who attends Barry University in Miami, got the message. “The most valuable thing I learned this summer was that I too could become that doctor that I have always dreamed of. There are other people that look like me and have had similar life experiences; they made it, and so can I. The most valuable advice I received was from Dr. Hutcherson: She told us if becoming a doctor is what we really want, then just work hard and do it. Do not listen to all those people who try to keep you down. Believe in yourself, and do it.”

Mr. Cruz from Willamette said he is now more motivated than ever to becoming a doctor. “Now I know that I can make it. They made me believe I can do it.”

The emotional closing ceremony, with its powerful speaker, continued to drive the message home. Dr. Carlos Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Washington Heights at a time when drugs were a serious problem in the neighborhood. He wanted to get out of that environment, and his experiences with a pediatric cardiologist inspired him to become a doctor himself. But getting there wasn’t easy. His parents did not have a high school education and no one in his family is a doctor. Attending college and working several jobs to pay his tuition proved not to mix well, and his grades suffered.

He had started to believe that he would never reach his goal when he enrolled in a summer academic enrichment program, much like the MMEP, that changed his life. His mentors in the program encouraged him to do what was in his heart, and those words gave him the confidence to go on. He eventually joined the Army to help pay for college. His college medical school adviser discouraged him from applying to P&S, saying he would never get in. He ignored the advice and applied to Columbia and to Cornell; he was accepted at both. The 1996 P&S graduate has just completed, at age 35, a post-graduate fellowship in cardiology.


Mohanad Abu-Speitan, SUNY Albany

Richard Ansong, Queens College

Nicolas Bamat, Williams College

Danielle Bennett-Dunn, Morgan State University

Jeanah Braden, University of California, Berkeley

Kimberly Brooks, Northwestern University

Eric Brown, Morehouse College

Katheryn Bruton, Tennessee State University

Brian Castillo, St. Mary’s University

Ayanna Castro, University of Texas, Austin

Garrett Charity Jr., Princeton University

Christina Chavez, University of California, Los Angeles

David Cheeks, Howard University

Eugene Cho, Columbia University

Tresell Davis, University of Southern California

J. Salvador de la Cruz, Willamette University

Fadiyla Dopwell, Vassar College

Marcus Dumas, Morehouse College

Caroline Dzodzomenyo, University of Arizona

Gerren Ector, Spelman College

Marcella Escoto, University of South Florida

Corrine Ferguson, Xavier University

Robert Fernandez, University of Texas, Austin

Lytia Fisher, Spelman College

Dacia Foster, Syracuse University

Alodia Gabre-Kidan, Columbia University

Alejandro Garcia, Cornell University

Frank Garcia, University of California, Los Angeles

Bri Ghods, Simmons College

LaShanda Glenn, Clemson University

Brandon Gomes, University of California, Los Angeles

Ashley Gordon, Stephen F. Austin State University

Marcel Green, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Kamilla Greenidge, Cornell University

Suzanne Gutierrez, Tufts University

Eric Hall II, Xavier University

Kristen Harris, University of Michigan

Natasha Harrison, Wake Forest University

Daphne Hayes, Xavier University

Kimberly Herrera, University of Delaware

Kerrian Hudson, Yale University

Leslie Ibeanusi, Spelman College

Joy Igbokwe, Princeton University

Antoinette Innis, Cornell University

Veronica Issac, University of Maryland

Pamojah Johnson, University of California, Berkeley

Sangeetha Kandan, Xavier University

Chantelle Kanhai, Spelman College

Hanna Kememu, Adelphi University

Wonha Kim, Princeton University

Shuxian Koh, New York University

Michel Kwarteng, Stanford University

Yan Lai, Columbia University

Yael Leal, Texas A&M

Alecia Lindner, Morgan State University

Khadija Mani, Wellesley College

Darrel Manney, University of Pittsburgh

Joanne Marmol, Columbia University

Darrell Maxwell, Howard University

Charles McFail, Morehouse University

Dionne Mills, University of Arizona

Asif Mohammed, University of Delaware

Jeremy Moriarty, Cornell University

Antonia Munoz-Juvera, University of California, Riverside

Ward Myers, University of the Sacred Heart

Rahwa Neguse, Texas Christian University

Kimberly Nguyen, Tufts University

Tam Nguyen, University of San Francisco

Thao Nguyen, San Jose State University

Nyia Noel, Columbia University

Sherise Noel, Howard University

Shirley Obioha, St. Lawrence University

Olufeyi Ogunyemi, University of Washington

Raquel Peralta, Barry University

Guesnerth Perea, City College of New York

Kevin Peterson, Barry University

Miguel Pineda, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Indhira Polanco, Columbia University

Christopher Ramos, Princeton University

Alexis Rivera, Concordia College

Tanisha Robinson, Duke University

Luis Rohena, Columbia University

Bryan Romero, Franklyn & Marshall College

Roger Saldana, University of Florida

Carolyn Sangokoya, Stanford University

Leonardo Santana, Lehman College, CUNY

Sheyla Santana, Quinnipiac University

Karlene Schmidt, University of Minnesota

La Tasha Seliby, University of California, Davis

Rawle Shewprashad, College at Brockport, SUNY

Oluwatoyin Showole, St. Lawrence University

Shani Smith, University of Florida

Mary Sullivan, New York University

Lucas Tarquino, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Techecia Thomas, Xavier University

Monica Tincopa, University of Southern California

Alan Torres, Loyola Marymount University

Charles Torres-Chae, Columbia University

Damian Turner, Morgan State University

Jalan Washington, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

Kamilah Weems, Xavier University

Lena Weinman, University of North Florida

Miranda Wellington, Baylor University

Christy Whitby, Ohio State University

Shenita White, Emory University

Kirah Williams, Spelman College

Nana Wilmot, Prairie View A&M

Nicholas Wisnoski, Brown University

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