Almost 70 undergraduates, postgrads, and advisors to students considering health and science careers visited Yale School of Medicine (YSM) for two days in early April, as part of two YSM pipeline programs that had been virtual since the COVID-19 pandemic began. PATHS— the Yale Program to Advance Training in Health and Science— is a 10-month program that provides training, mentoring, and other resources to undergraduates and postgrads from across the U.S. who self-identify as underrepresented-in-science and medicine and are interested in obtaining an MD, MD/PhD, or biomedical PhD degree. First Look, launched in 2019, provides pre-med/science student advisors from minority-serving institutions and local colleges with information about Yale’s MD and MD/PhD programs, to help advisors better encourage their students to consider YSM and provide guidance on the application process.
Facilitating connection and career success
The joint PATHS-First Look Immersion Program provided opportunities for participants in both pipeline programs to engage with the YSM community—and each other—and learn about opportunities at Yale. The gathering began with an informal welcome dinner, followed by a day-and-a-half of information sessions, small group discussions, tours, and informal networking. Topics ranged from the Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE) Office, financial aid, and preparing for the PhD transition, to conversations about “What is your why?” and the imposter syndrome. Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, John Francis, MD, PhD, associate dean for student affairs, Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean and chief diversity officer, and Marietta Vázquez, MD, associate dean for medical student diversity, were some of the YSM faculty and leadership who participated. The immersion visit “is a great opportunity to demystify Yale and showcase our programs and students among a talented cohort of future scientists and health professionals and the faculty who advise them. We want to facilitate connection and career success and make sure there aren’t any barriers in accessing our programs,” says Linda Jackson, director of the DICE Office.
Gina Jones, MEd, MSW, director of pre-health professions advising and continuing education programs at Florida Atlantic University (FAU)— which has the largest representation of Hispanic students in Florida—found the in-person gathering valuable to learn more about how YSM has included diversity in its pathway programs and overall mission. She said she now can tell FAU students, “You will feel welcome, you will feel like you belong. We learned that there is funding for support to make it affordable to attend.” Jones also found it encouraging to see that students will have the opportunity to work alongside faculty, students, and administrators who care about their success. Jones oversees a program with about 3,000 pre-health professions students, along with freshman advisors Latarsha Morgan and Thabita Joseph, who also attended the immersion program.
DICE created PATHS in 2020, as a virtual program, when the pandemic prevented Yale from hosting pipeline programs it traditionally had held on campus. Sixty students participate in PATHS, with monthly virtual workshops, from August through May, where they interact with Yale faculty, students, and alumni from diverse backgrounds, meeting relatable role models and receiving guidance on preparing for and applying to MD, MD/PhD, or PhD degree programs. Participants also can receive one-on-one mentoring from YSM students.
Welcoming community and support network
This year, the program had funding for an in-person visit, and 52 of the 60 PATHS cohort members joined the April on-campus event, which was cost-free for attendees. Although they only had met virtually prior to coming to campus, Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD, director, Yale Ciencia Initiative, YSM Office of Equity Diversity & Inclusion (DEI), said PATHS “places a big emphasis on community building and connection,” which was evident in the bonds that had formed among the participants. Alice Yi, a fourth-year student at the University of New Haven studying medical laboratory science who aspires to pursue a PhD, said, “It was such a welcoming community and I met amazing people” adding, “it provided a strong support network, even though we are all on independent journeys.” PATHS has helped her refine her understanding both of navigating the application process and for optimizing the advanced degree pursuit productively. Yi said the program was affirming, encouraging her to pursue her academic and career goals and not be daunted.
For Isabelle Rodriguez, a fourth-year student at the University of Florida who wants to get a PhD in pharmacology, PATHS was fulfilling and heart-warming. She explained that while the students’ backgrounds are very different, they share the common experience of coming from backgrounds not commonly found in scientific and medical careers. She appreciated being able to have open and honest conversations about this experience, talking about issues she does not usually get to discuss.
The PATHS program helped Vanessa Viveros, a fourth-year student at the University of California, Riverside, to learn the ins and outs of the next steps to advance her goal of getting a PhD focused on microbiology, infectious diseases, and epidemiology. Viveros is eager to serve and be a spokesperson for individuals who look like her and are not currently well-represented in science.
For Guerrero-Medina, the most significant outcome of the joint on-campus event was the opportunity for students to meet each other and to talk with Yale students. She explains, “Science and health professions can sometimes seem distant and unattainable—I think we were effective in helping students and advisors see that there is a path in science and health for anyone with the talent and commitment.” While still gathering feedback from attendees, Guerrero-Medina found it encouraging that almost 100% of respondents to date said they felt welcome at Yale, and more than 80% of visiting students say they are very or extremely likely to apply to Yale for an advanced degree.
The conference was underwritten with support from the Linda Armstrong Fund for Diversity and Inclusion, and was organized by Aja Diggs (First Look and PATHS project coordinator), Guerrero-Medina (PATHS principal investigator), Jackson (First Look director and PATHS co-director), Carolina Machado (PATHS project coordinator), Titilayo Omotade, PhD (PATHS co-director), and Steven Paniagua, PhD (DEI fellow).