What is The LEAGUES Fellowship?
The LEAGUES (Leadership Exposure for the Advancement of Gender and Underrepresented Minority Equity in Surgery) Fellowship is a summer program in the Michigan Medicine Department of Surgery that is offered to medical students across the country between their first and second years of school. Our goals are to give early exposure to procedural specialties, and to create a pipeline for students who are from underrepresented backgrounds and who share our values of increasing diversity in medicine and surgery.
Each summer, LEAGUES fellows attend a four-week program at Michigan Medicine that includes seminars about surgery, sessions teaching key surgical skills, and mentored research projects with Department of Surgery faculty, culminating in a presentation at the Center for Healthcare Outcomes and Policy. The LEAGUES Fellowship was created by Michigan Medicine’s all-star general surgery resident Dr. Valeria Valbuena, and the program piloted in 2020. Our leadership team is made up of several UMMS medical students and surgery residents, and the wonderful Dr. Gifty Kwakye serves as our faculty advisor.
Getting Involved in LEAGUES
Coming into medical school, surgery was not on my radar as a possibility for myself. I was an anthropology major in college, and I did not believe that I fit into the stereotypical box that I had in my head at that time for a surgeon. The summer after my first year of medical school, I participated in a summer program for M1s at Michigan called Surgery Olympics. In this program, I did social sciences research with an incredible surgeon who also happens to be a minority, an immigrant, a Black woman, and a mother. If Surgery Olympics was the ignition, my M2 rotation on surgery was the spark, and I fell in love with surgery. I wanted to find a way to combine my excitement for the field with my desire to pay it forward by building a more diverse and inclusive surgical workforce and mentorship group. And, as sometimes happens at the University of Michigan Medical School, into my email inbox “walked” Dr. Valbuena with LEAGUES and an opportunity to get involved.
What Makes The LEAGUES Fellowship Special
To me, what makes LEAGUES a special program is its mission to help students who have fewer resources. Not only do we aim to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, we also intentionally look for students who may have fewer research or mentorship opportunities at their school. Additionally, the faculty mentors that we pair with students are excellent. They work with the students to develop a practical research project that fits their interests, and they continue to invest in the students once they return to medical school. Previous LEAGUES fellows have published peer-reviewed manuscripts with their faculty and used their faculty to build more connections throughout academic medicine. The Michigan Medicine Department of Surgery is passionate about the LEAGUES program, and their efforts have led to an unparalleled opportunity for medical students.
Built by Trainees, for Trainees
LEAGUES is a program built by and built for trainees. The unique aspect of peer-to-peer mentorship within LEAGUES has provided me with the opportunity to be a mentor, even as a student, and to learn from peers across the country. The LEAGUES Fellowship not only allows you to be a leader at every stage in medical school, but also emphasizes this role. During the LEAGUES summer lecture series I shared my experiences in health policy and advocacy and was able to later speak at a LEAGUES fellow’s medical school to inspire their student group to start a similar advocacy project. I also had the opportunity to attend an academic conference with one of our LEAGUES fellows, and as we both edited our presentations together, attended talks and networked, I saw the joy of peer learning and mentorship. I learned a lot from her experiences as a social worker and osteopathic medical student and continue to learn from our fellows. The LEAGUES Fellowship successfully recruits diverse medical students who enrich any environment they enter.
The Best Part of LEAGUES
My favorite part of LEAGUES has been getting to know the people involved, including the fellows, my co-med student leaders, the residents and the faculty. Our LEAGUES fellows have been complete rock stars, and it is amazing to learn about the ways they live out their passions during medical school. It is also exciting to meet future colleagues in surgery from other medical schools. It is inspiring to get to know the residents who started and grew the fellowship and to see their example of allyship and advocacy during surgical residency. Listening to the program’s faculty-led seminars and learning about these leaders’ journeys to surgery has also been incredibly inspiring and motivating. Mentorship is huge, and our LEAGUES sessions leave me feeling inspired by leadership at all levels and encouraged about the future of surgery.
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Clockwise: Caroline Richburg is a third-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. In her free time, she enjoys distance running and playing with her pug puppy, Mabel.
Brandon Ellsworth is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. He enjoys spending his free time outdoors, in comedy clubs, or playing music with friends.
Devon Cassidy is a third-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, live music and Ann Arbor’s coffee shops.
Valeria Valbuena, MD, MSc, is a general surgery resident at Michigan Medicine. When not working, she likes to hike and bike regularly, along with sewing, reading, cooking and hanging out with her partner and their dog (Sofi) and cat (Maria).