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Growing as a LEADer: From Non-Profit Management to Medical School

Before coming to the University of Michigan Medical School, I spent three years building the nonprofit organization, Lunar Doula Collective (LDC). After noting the lack of reproductive grief care at multiple health care systems, I helped build the first and only pregnancy loss doula program in Michigan. Not only did this experience inspire my motivation to pursue medicine, but it gave me a community that shared my passion for social justice and health equity.

2023 LEAD Cohort at Adventure Leadership in the summer

As I prepared to transition into medical school, I remember feeling anxious about leaving LDC behind. This next chapter of my life would come with a lot of challenges: making new friends, figuring out work-life balance and adjusting to a different environment. While I felt excited and grateful to begin my journey, I was equally as nervous to navigate this process as a first-generation medical student. 

When I heard about the LEAD (Leadership and Enrichment for Academic Diversity) Pre-Matriculation Program, I knew right away that I wanted to apply. This two-week leadership course is thoughtfully designed to prepare and help transition incoming medical students. Through early exposure to resources and mentorship, LEAD students are empowered to cultivate change in the community and seek professional growth. 

All smiles at our White Coat Ceremony – July 23, 2023

During my time in LEAD, I heard from faculty and current students about their experiences at UMMS as they shared advice on how to navigate medical school. From learning effective study strategies to identifying research opportunities, I began growing more confident as the first day of class approached. LEAD programming also included team bonding activities, health equity lessons and stress management strategies. As part of the LEAD cohort, I truly felt like I had the resources, attributes and support system to succeed.

Another thing I appreciate about LEAD is the longitudinal educational enrichment. Our cohort continues to meet throughout the year to hear from various guest speakers and engage in professional development opportunities. Whether it’s a financial literacy seminar or a CV-building workshop, we get to collectively decide what events and topics would interest and benefit us the most. At the end of LEAD, I got paired with a senior medical student as part of a peer-mentoring program. Having someone to lean on and seek guidance from was so immensely helpful when I began medical school. 

Checking out the Big House Stadium with some LEAD friends!

What surprised me the most about LEAD was its unique culture of collaboration and connectedness. I found a safe space to talk about failures, learn from my peers, and explore diverse perspectives. This close-knit community has been my source of encouragement and inspiration throughout my M1 year. I’ve seen my LEAD peers represent our class on the Student Council, encourage community building through M-Home, and facilitate resource and knowledge-sharing. Taking what I learned from LEAD, I was personally inspired to start two new organizations for medical students at UMMS this year: The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society Chapter and Medicine in Motion

LEAD Besties: Krupa Patel (left) and Jennifer Lee (right)

The LEAD Program was the perfect start to my medical school journey. It allowed me to strengthen my leadership and professionalism skills, value the diversity and experiences of my peers, and turn my doubts and fears into self-confidence. These are lessons I will carry with me throughout and beyond the next four years.​ I am grateful to the Office of Admissions, the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI), and the Office of Medical Student Education (OMSE) for planning and hosting such an impactful experience. To my 2023 LEAD cohort: thank you for our little community that cheers each other on, dreams big, and makes UMMS feel like home. 

Supporting First-Generation and Low-Income Students at Michigan Medical School

Hello! We’re Courtney and Jourdin, two M4s who have finished interviewing (for EM and OB/GYN — wish us luck in the Match!) and who spend a lot of time together as Smoker Musical Dance Demi-Czars, Biorhythms choreographers, baby animal parents, foodies, and close friends. 

We also both happen to be first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students. 

Though definitions may vary across institutions, most define a first-generation student as someone for whom neither parent has a Bachelor’s degree. Low-income students are often identified by eligibility for Pell Grants — grants the federal government provides as part of financial aid for undergraduate students meeting an income threshold. As you can imagine, there is often overlap between these groups. Approximately 12% of our medical school community identifies as first-gen, and multiple students hail from low-income backgrounds. As M4s, we know how difficult it can be to navigate the new environment of medical school, especially without loved ones who can provide guidance. We both have struggled, lacking the social capital (and more often than we’d like, monetary capital) necessary to thrive in medicine’s typically affluent environment.  

Though already friends for years, we actually didn’t know of each other’s FGLI identities until it came time to share our Impact Project ideas with the rest of our class. Here at Michigan, everyone completes a Capstone for Impact. This project can be anything. From research to workshops — your only limitation is your imagination. The school administration is extremely supportive from both a mentorship and financial perspective to really help students leave something behind at Michigan. 

Both of us hoped to spend the Branches, our third and fourth year curriculum, helping to improve the experience of both prospective and current FGLI students through targeted programming and mentorship. We were thrilled to find out that we both had a shared experience and could combine our efforts. With help from some amazingly invested Admissions Office friends (shoutout to Carol and Becky!) and our fantastic mentor Dr. Okanlami (check him out on twitter!– @okanlami), our little passion project has really taken off.

FGLI students brainstorming ideas for support!

We have been so excited to see the level of support from various offices across the school, and the level of engagement of our fellow FGLI students. This engagement has been instrumental in our progress, as we used student opinions gathered from focus groups and surveys to drive our efforts. From the insight of students, we have been able to establish outreach to prospective students and send representatives to Admissions events, work with the school to secure funding and resources for FGLI students, work on consolidating the existing resources into a more visible format, and we have just recently launched a peer mentorship program. This last effort is particularly near and dear to our hearts as we both remember the loneliness that can come from trying to overcome the challenges of being FGLI in medical school when you feel like you are alone in the struggles you’re experiencing. We hope that this will provide a first step to establishing a flourishing FGLI community at Michigan, where people feel they can be open with these often invisible identities. 

More recently, we’ve been trying to ensure sustainability — at UMMS, at the University of Michigan more broadly, and nationally. We have been very deliberate in our efforts to identify underclassmen who can carry on and expand our project at the Medical School, to ensure that students will continue to benefit from these efforts after we graduate (In May! So soon!). Earlier this week, we attended a First Gen Community Dinner for students across the undergraduate and various graduate schools, which gave us further opportunities to network and build relationships with people on campus who are passionate about these issues. We are also currently working with students from several medical schools across the nation to develop a national FGLI organization.

Taking on this enormous project in the context of continuing our normal medical school rotations has been challenging, but so rewarding. It has really affirmed for the both of us that Michigan is a special place where your goals and vision will be truly supported, and where you will be allowed to make a difference even as a student!