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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. 

A Student-Initiated Collaboration to Address Diversity Among Physician-Scientists

Before I even started high school, I knew I wanted to become a physician. However, after my freshman year of college, I questioned whether I would make that dream come true. I was struggling to maintain my STEM GPA, and I believed I just was not cut out for medicine. I was ready to give up, but then I participated in the Biomedical Research Internship for Minority Students (BRIMS) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. This program gave me the courage and confidence to continue pursuing medicine. I was able to network with highly successful minority physicians, learn new study techniques, and most importantly, I gained a new outlook.

During the BRIMS program, I discussed the struggles I faced with science courses my freshman year. Through workshops with my colleagues and mentors, I realized that my public-school College Preparatory Chemistry course during 10th grade might have left me with less of a foundation than some of my classmates. This by no means meant I was not as intelligent or qualified, but it did mean that I needed to take the extra time to strengthen my foundation moving forward. Going into my sophomore year of college, I no longer saw my knowledge gaps as incompetence, but something I could work through by going to office hours and seeking out additional resources like Khan Academy videos. Unfortunately, many students are not able to participate in programs like BRIMS and in their case, they may decide to give up on medicine just as I would have if I did not participate in the BRIMS program.

My UM SMART poster presentation.

Many students who are from populations that are underrepresented in medicine (URiM) face significant barriers to becoming a physician. Whether that be a lack of foundational knowledge as in my case, low standardized test scores, lack of representative mentorship, financial barriers, imposter syndrome, and so much more. For many URiM students these challenges become prohibitive to applying to medical school, leading to a lack of diversity in the field. During my junior year of college, I decided to not only apply to medical school but also pursue a PhD because of my strong research interest.

The lack of diversity was amplified amongst the physician-scientist field. MD/PhD programs are notoriously selective and competitive. The years of research experience needed, high median MCAT, and lack of representative physician-scientist mentors with a culmination of other factors have resulted in a field that lacks diversity. In 2019, out of 579 MD/PhD graduates, 5.35% were Black, 5.17% were Hispanic, and 0 were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (https://www.aamc.org/media/8231/download).

With such a low number of URiM students in the MD/PhD field, it is clear change needs to be made in order to strengthen the pipeline for aspiring URiM physician-scientists. This summer, I collaborated with URiM MD/PhD students at Emory, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania to address this very problem. We wrote a paper that discusses the challenges URiM applicants may face in the MD/PhD process and advice for overcoming these challenges. We also highlighted next steps for institutions to improve URiM recruitment, such as creating URiM-specific MD/PhD programs, implementing implicit bias trainings, and improving on the holistic review process. It was an amazing experience to unite with other URiM MD/PhD students across the country. During our Zoom meetings, we not only brainstormed ideas for effecting change, but we were also able to connect on unique challenges that arose during the application and interview process.

While there is still a lot of work to be done, I feel a sense of pride that the University of Michigan is doing such a great job in regards to improving the MD/PhD pipeline. We have a program called the UM-SMART program that is specifically for underrepresented students who are exploring the possibility of a career as a physician-scientist. After graduation, 78% of the past participants have entered MD/PhD, PhD, or MD programs. The UM-SMART program was the reason I decided to pursue an MD/PhD. It will be a long and difficult road to increase representation within the physician-scientist workforce, but I feel assured by the passion for change amongst my peers, faculty, and collaborators at other institutions.