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Community College Students Explore Health Care Careers with the California Medicine Scholars Program

UC San Diego School of Medicine welcomes 51 students to the second cohort of the program

Male community college student using a stethoscope to conduct a mock physical exam on his mother.
Community College student Dylan Oest, a new scholar with the California Medicine Scholars Program, practices a mock physical exam on his mother, Nadine Oest, at an orientation event hosted by the School of Medicine. Photos by Kaleb Scott/Wonderstruck Photography

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It is often said that the best way to understand what someone is experiencing is to walk a mile in their shoes. For University of California San Diego student Andrea Sawaya having a mentor who has walked a similar path has been invaluable in helping him get where he is today.

While studying at Cuyamaca and Grossmont Community Colleges, Sawaya was accepted into the inaugural cohort of the California Medicine Scholars Program (CMSP). The program is a premedical pathway in which community college students receive mentorship, skills development and community building to facilitate health care-related opportunities that are not traditionally provided by community colleges. UC San Diego School of Medicine was the first University of California medical school to launch a regional CMSP.

Thanks in part to his experiences with CMSP, Sawaya transferred to UC San Diego in fall of 2023 as a junior studying psychology with a specialization in human health.  

“I definitely think CMSP helped prepare me to transfer to UC San Diego,” said Sawaya. “I believe that the mentorship I received, from writing essays to submitting my application was instrumental in getting accepted to my school of choice. It is really important to learn how to share experiences with one another, whether it is for transfer applications, summer programs, or medical school further down the line.”

Recently Sawaya was able to begin paying it forward by sharing his experiences as UC San Diego School of Medicine welcomed the second cohort of CMSP scholars. Fifty-one community college students from San Diego and Imperial Counties participated in an orientation event in February. At the event, members of the initial CMSP cohort and current UC San Diego medical students welcomed the new scholars and their loved ones to campus. They toured campus, attended workshops and participated in a mock physical exam, all designed to showcase CMSP and help the scholars understand what to expect throughout the program.  

“As a community college student, there weren't many opportunities to get involved with medicine” Sawaya added. “Moreover, access to such opportunities is often for students coming from privileged backgrounds. My experience with CMSP has been fulfilling and rewarding. I got to experience multiple aspects of medicine, present research, receive mentorship, and now give back by being part of the leadership team.”

Created in 2021 with a one-time $10.5 million grant from the California Department of Healthcare Access and Information, CMSP is housed at four regional hubs throughout the state (UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Davis and UC San Francisco - Fresno). Recently the state of California appropriated $2.8 million in ongoing annual funding to sustain the pathway program.

“CMSP represents the first institutionalized statewide pathway to medicine to systematically prepare California’s community college students for careers as primary care physicians and to practice in underserved communities,” said Ramón A. Hernandez, DrPH, M.P.H., co-director of the Region X California Medicine Scholars Program at UC San Diego. “There is no other statewide initiative in the country that has leveraged the diversity, affordability and reality of premedical student reliance on community colleges to prepare future physicians. The investment and commitment California has made represents a commitment to building a diverse physician workforce that will strengthen the health and wellness of all communities across California.”

Palomar Community College student Dylan Oest is a member of the newest cohort of scholars. He applied to the program because he saw it as an opportunity to receive guidance from those with similar goals, as well as practicing physicians.

“The best part of orientation day was the beginning of a new community,” said Oest. “Although we were just introduced to other scholars, the division of the program into small groups with our own advisors introduced me to many new amazing people.”

The newest cohort of scholars were selected from an applicant pool of 280 interested students. Of those selected, 80% are historically underrepresented in medicine, economically disadvantaged and/or first-generation students.

“We need a physician workforce that is ready and capable of advocating for our patients from vulnerable communities,” said Jacob Bailey, M.D., M.A., co-director of the Region X California Medicine Scholars Program at UC San Diego. “The California Community College system represents our state’s promise of equal access to higher education. So, it made sense to create a premedical education pathway for community college students to shape a future workforce that reflects our aspirations of a just, equitable and inclusive society.”

By encouraging and supporting community college students to pursue medical education, CMSP is working toward creating a physician workforce that not only represents California’s diversity, but that is also committed to improving communities.

“I’m looking forward to learning about how to become a physician who makes a lasting impact in my patients’ lives,” said Oest. “We have all had good doctors and bad doctors. I can’t wait to learn how to be a good future doctor.”

Second-year medical student Austin Powell demonstrates how to take a wrist pulse for California Medicine Scholars Program participants and family members.
Second-year medical student Austin Powell demonstrates how to take a wrist pulse for California Medicine Scholars Program participants and their family members. 
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