California Medicine Scholars Program Encourages Community College Students to Pursue Medicine
Among the many new faces on University of California San Diego’s campus this fall will be 17 eager community college graduates with the goal of becoming doctors someday. These students are all participants in the state-funded California Medicine Scholars Program (CMSP), specifically the Region X Hub of Healthcare Opportunity for San Diego and Imperial Counties, led by UC San Diego School of Medicine. This inaugural cohort of 53 students applied for and were accepted into the program which is designed to create clear pathways for California’s community college students to ultimately graduate from California medical schools.
Studies have shown that having a doctor who looks like you can make a critical difference in the overall health of communities. Though the state is quite diverse and the California Community Colleges system, which is the largest public education system in the country, mirrors the state’s diversity, there is a lack of cultural competency and regional diversity in the physician workforce.
“There is a history of large groups of people who have been excluded from becoming doctors,” said Jacob Bailey, MD, MA, assistant clinical professor of medicine, co-director of the Region X California Medicine Scholars Program and assistant director of the Program in Medical Education – Health Equity at the School of Medicine. “Whether this is intentional or not, it takes a lot of work to un-do what has been done. Diversity is important because it has a direct impact on patients’ lives. It has an impact on advocacy for patients. It has an impact on quality and satisfaction for patients. But it’s not just about patients. Being more diverse makes us better doctors, better educators and better innovators.”
Modeled after the UniversityLink Medical Science Program (ULMSP), which the School of Medicine has administered for more than 15 years, students who are part of CMSP receive essential support that includes skills development, mentorship and community building, all designed to help students explore pre-med opportunities that are not traditionally provided by community colleges.
“Over the years ULMSP has developed a best practice model that has supported the successful transfer of more than 200 community college students to four-year institutions,” said Ramon Hernandez, DrPH, MPH, projector director ULSMP, section chief for Community Health in the Department of Pediatrics, and director of Pathways and Community Partnerships at the School of Medicine. “CMSP allows us to strengthen student academic outcomes, develop their professional identity in medicine, and increase their success before transitioning to a four-year university. Together ULMSP and CMSP create a robust, fully paved pathway that supports the goals of our students and will diversify the future physician workforce.”
Gabriel Ruiz is one such CMSP student who will be transferring to UC San Diego this fall to study molecular biology and just completed the ULMSP summer 2023 residential program.
Ruiz remembers a particular hands-on event which included learning how to suture and participating in a pathology lab that really solidified his desire to pursue enrollment at UC San Diego with a goal of attending the School of Medicine to become an internal medicine doctor.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted to do in the future,” said Ruiz. “After joining the program and going to a few of the events and meeting people, I decided that medicine is what I want to do in the future.”
Alex Beltran Nunez is another member of the inaugural CMSP cohort. This fall he is transferring to University of California Davis to study cognitive science. As a first generation Latinx student he was first drawn to the program as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the process to get from community college to medical school.
“The California Medicine Scholars Program opened doors of opportunities that I never even knew were available to me,” said Beltran Nunez.
Kevin Gilbert, MD, who graduated from the School of Medicine this past June, served as the co-assistant director for the program this first year. As a community college student who navigated the course to medical school through great mentors, support programs and summer internships, he believes the CMSP program represents an intentional effort to clarify the path from community college, which will provide a solid foundation for future physicians.
“I am ecstatic that CMSP officially exists now, and is supported by amazing champions throughout the state,” said Gilbert. “As a community college student, I was lucky to have found a sense of community. I was lucky to have been provided with academic structure. And I was lucky to have been offered mentorship. These core pillars were essential to me passing my courses in order to qualify for medical school and were essential to me successfully transferring and ultimately completing my degree.”
For Marissa Abeyta, who took classes at Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges, the CMSP program fostered a sense of confidence and belonging.
“There was once a time when I would have been too intimidated to step foot inside the School of Medicine, even just to buy a coffee,” said Abeyta, who will transfer to UC San Diego in the fall to study global health. “The whole CMSP team has brought me in as if I was an honored guest. I have been given opportunities to see and touch different aspects of medicine with curiosity and joyfulness. I have also been offered transfer resources, the gift of mentorship, and the opportunity to do my own health equity research. It is difficult to quantify the impact that all of this has had on me. It has been profound, and it is still playing out in wonderfully unexpected and exciting ways.”
Abeyta recalls that through CMSP, she and her cohort members were given the opportunity to tour facilities at UC San Diego and beyond, such as the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine and the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“As an aspiring pathologist I have had wonderful opportunities to see the many options that exist for me both during and after medical school,” said Abeyta. “These were huge affirmations for me, especially as a community college student, that my goals are attainable and with a few more years of hard work I can realistically be working in those types of settings. Sometimes it takes actually seeing to believe.”
Lifting scholars up and helping them to achieve what was once perceived as unreachable by many of them is at the heart of CMSP.
“We stay involved with the scholars throughout their entire journey,” said Bailey. “They continue to receive services and coaching. There are still opportunities for success all along their path. This is a long-term investment. For any student who never thought it was possible to attend medical school to become a doctor, we want them to know that it is possible, and we are here to support them.”
“This has been a great opportunity to get your feet in the water to see what a career in medicine is like, to meet other people like you, meet other doctors and get a lot of advice,” said Ruiz. “The mentors also give a lot of advice about the application process to get into universities and how to apply for scholarships.”
“We are proud to support the progress of these scholars,” said Rowena Robles, executive director of the California Medicine Scholars Program. “A diverse and culturally competent health workforce is essential to meeting the unique needs of our communities, specifically in rural areas where access to quality primary care is lacking. CMSP is proud to empower a new generation of students and enable them to embark on the path to medical school and, ultimately, serve as physicians in California.”
Just last month, California solidified its commitment to continuing this program by including $2.8 million in ongoing annual funding appropriated for the California Medicine Scholars Program. Funds will be administered by the California Department of Healthcare Access and Information and will help sustain and grow CMSP to improve access to medical care in regions of need.
Applications for the next cohort will be accepted beginning September 1. For more information on the program and application process, please visit: cmsp.ucsd.edu.
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