Two years ago, Alyssa Cartwright witnessed a horrible motorcycle accident. A bike hit a pole. She stopped to help, but there was little she could do. The driver died in her arms. “The feeling of helplessness after calling 911 was a turning point for me,” says the 18-year-old. Cartwright decided she would learn how to heal the wounded; she would study medicine; become a doctor.
The University of Central Florida junior is one of 23 Florida college students, including 15 FIU undergrads, taking part this week in the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM) Doctors of Tomorrow program. “We started the program three years ago as a pipeline to our college of medicine and to address the call to increase the diversity of applicants to medical schools,” says Barbra Roller, assistant dean for student affairs. The program targets pre-med students from groups underrepresented in medicine: minorities, first generation in college, and low socioeconomic status.
Alexus Cummings-Cook, a 21-year-old African-American who attends Palm Beach State College, hopes to be the first in her family to graduate from college and go on to become a pediatrician. “I know it’s competitive, so I’m slightly nervous,” she says, “but excited at the same time.”
The free, intensive, five-day program is designed to help the students navigate the complicated process of applying for medical school and making them more competitive applicants. To accomplish this, students are coached on MCAT test preparation strategies, public speaking – with the help of the FIU Department of Communication Arts – and interviewing skills through videotaped mock interviews. They also get a feel for what it’s like to be a medical student by visiting the college’s anatomy, simulation and research labs, and being mentored by current HWCOM students.
Cartwright considers it a great opportunity because as a first generation college student she feels “really lost in the whole application process.” It’s also a big deal for her family. “I talked to my mom and she couldn’t stop crying. She’s so excited for me,” she says.
FIU psychology major Fernando Alvarez is so excited about the prospect of going to medical school here, he’s already sporting an official HWCOM sweatshirt.
“The ambience in the College of Medicine, just being here, is amazing,” he says. The 20-year-old, second generation Cuban-American says he got a kick out of visiting the anatomy lab and was impressed to learn about the college’s signature Green Family Foundation NeighborhoodHELP™ initiative, which partners medical students with underserved households in Miami-Dade County.
“We’re in the midst of a nationwide physician shortage. It is crucial that we attract these budding health care professionals to our community, especially to care for the underserved,” says Tom M. Gomez, chief executive officer, Miami-Dade Area Health Education Center (AHEC). “It is just as important that we engage underrepresented communities in healthcare professions.” AHEC and the HWCOM are partnering to meet those objectives, and AHEC supports the DOT program as the primary funder in 2014.
For FIU grad Annie Hang Ho, a participant two years ago, the program was an eye opener. “It really prepared me for the application cycle,” she says.
This fall, Ho, a Vietnamese immigrant whose parents only got as far as middle school, will enter medical school at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. She is indeed on her way to becoming a Doctor of Tomorrow.