UM-Funded Summer Programs Encourage Underrepresented Students’ Interest in Health Care

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Celine Jose, a first-year biology major at Stetson University, first developed an interest in research when she received a bone marrow transplant to treat her sickle cell anemia. This summer, she is part of a group of undergraduate students conducting hands-on research in University of Miami Miller School of Medicine laboratories through the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (ODICE) Medical Scholars Program.

"The power of research stuck with me since my transplant, where I sought even more answers to the problems that affect so many people," Jose said. "I consider my time here to be the first stepping-stone of many in my path to help develop breakthroughs.”

STIR participant Celine Jose in the Pillai laboratory

The Student Training in Research Program (STIR), an in-lab learning course, is one of four summer programs helping students from historically excluded minority groups to pursue careers in health care. STIR is being held in person on the medical campus, while the MCAT Preparation Program, High School Careers in Medicine Workshop, and Health Careers Motivation Program will be virtual.

Increasing diversity among providers can reduce health disparities by improving patient outcomes and quality of care.

“Pathway programs serve a vital role in recruiting and retaining historically excluded students who are disproportionately represented in medicine,” said Nanette Vega, Ed.D., assistant professor of medical education and assistant dean for ODICE.

“Our mission is to develop the next generation of physicians and researchers representative of the diverse communities we serve,” she said. “The Medical Scholars Program implements high-impact education practices that provide students with the opportunity for exposure and mentorship through lab research. The growth in each student is inspiring.”

STIR fellows and their mentors
Mentorship and Hands-on Research

Throughout the summer, STIR learners will receive mentorship from medical students at the Miller School and conduct hands-on research alongside faculty. The program is free, and students receive stipends for travel, meals, and housing.

“STIR gives participants the skills to learn how to pursue a specific research problem, under the supervision of a faculty member,” said Janet Bringuez-Sanchez, M.Ed., associate director of ODICE programs. “It helps students develop abilities that will increase their competitiveness for admission to medical schools."

Eighty percent of STIR participants are first-generation college students, attending undergraduate programs at schools across the country such as Duke University, the University of Michigan, and Lincoln University. This year's group comprises 10 students; half of the cohort is Black, a third are Hispanic, and the rest identify as two or more races.

The ODICE team: Touri White, M.P.S., Nanette Vega, Ed.D., and Janet Bringuez-Sanchez, M.Ed.
‘An Immersive Experience’

Students in the seven-week program are selected for their research interests and intention to apply to medical school. Their research will be conducted across multiple specialties and will include pelvic floor disorders, cancer prevention, and sleep medicine, among other topics.

After the program’s conclusion, students continue to reap many benefits, such as invitations by their mentors for continued research, opportunities to present their work at national conferences, and publication in peer-reviewed journals as part of the program.

“So far, this has been an immersive experience, with learning opportunities constantly presenting themselves,” said Jose. “I hope to understand the world of immunology and the methods that contribute to life-saving discoveries."

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