Grant jumpstarts pre-med diversity program

Nov. 17, 2010, 2:03 a.m.

In 2007, the Stanford University School of Medicine shut down its Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP), a six-week residential summer program, due to a lack of federal funding. However, with a new three-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the program is now back up and running.

By creating partnerships with local community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California, HCOP Director Dr. Ronald Garcia focused his last three years on renewing federal support for the program and reaching out to students from varying academic backgrounds. His goal is to encourage as many students as possible to pursue careers in medical, dental, physician assistant and public health studies.

“For Stanford, the summer HCOP is the jewel in the crown of the program,” Garcia said. “The summer HCOP demystifies the medical school admission process and provides a challenging educational and social community. Students leave the program with confidence and direction.”

According to Medical School spokeswoman Sarah Ipaktchian, HCOP “provides students with premedical advising, mentorship from Stanford medical school faculty and staff and instruction in health research, anatomy, cell biology, minority health issues and demographic healthcare disparities.”

To fill its program, HCOP targets students who have struggled with economic or educational barriers on their path to academic success. Many of the students who matriculate in the program are the first in their families to attend college, come from under-resourced school systems, know English as a second language or are low-income, in addition to other barriers to success. Garcia said the experience is particularly helpful for community college students who have limited access to advising on the medical school admissions process.

Juan Miguel Sandoval, a graduate of the program, is currently a second-year medical student at Stanford’s School of Medicine and said HCOP changed his life. The program, Sandoval said, provided him with “guidance, mentorship and knowledge about how to navigate the system.”

“The program literally took the blindfold off and empowered me with a plate full of invaluable experiences and resources that changed the course of my college career,” Sandoval said.

Through the program, Sandoval was able to participate in workshops on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), personal statement and American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). He was able to take medical school-level courses in anatomy and cell biology and shadow Stanford’s top physicians in the specialty of his choice.

Sandoval regards HCOP as “the springboard that launched [his] research career.” Because of his introduction to research through the program, Sandoval was able to pursue projects on developing malaria parasites at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and studying viral entry mechanisms of the hepatitis C virus and the Kaposi’s sarcoma virus at the National Institutes of Health. Sandoval is also the first in his family to graduate from college.

“My participation in the program was a true eye-opening experience and without the training, activities and knowledge I gained through many aspects of the program, I am not sure if I would have taken my career through the path I have,” said Sandoval. “I believe that HCOP was the key element in my success as an undergraduate and in my matriculation into medical school.”

Applications for Stanford’s Health Careers Opportunity Program are now available online for summer 2011.

Grant jumpstarts pre-med diversity program

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