When 45 energized college freshmen and sophomores graduate from Prep Médico on Saturday, they will join a choice group of more than 150 students who have learned what it takes to get into medical school and reinforce their desire to address health inequities among their future Latino patients.
The pipeline program, which was started four years ago by UC Davis and Kaiser Permanente, addresses a critical need across California: to boost the number of doctors who care for the state’s increasingly diverse and underserved communities, particularly in rural areas such as the Central Valley.
“Despite their incredible contributions to California’s culture and economy, Latinx communities continue to experience significant health disparities due to access barriers and poorer quality of care,” said Hendry Ton, interim associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion.
“Prep Médico is a collaboration between The Permanente Medical Group and UC Davis to help prepare college students to become the next generation of physicians who will address these disparities by providing high-quality health care that is culturally and linguistically relevant to Latinx patients.”
The scholars have enjoyed a pre-med journey unlike any other.
Over the past six weeks, these bright-eyed students – most of whom who are from underrepresented populations and hail from Central and Northern California – spent their nights at nearby Sacramento State dorms and their days in classrooms at the UC Davis School of Medicine. They also explored other parts of the medical center campus, Kaiser Permanente hospitals and outpatient clinics, and provided blood-pressure screening at a migrant labor camp in the Napa Valley.
Among their most memorable experiences:
- Shadowing Kaiser Permanente and UC Davis Health physicians from Roseville to Vacaville
- Connecting with countless mentors who told deeply personal stories about their educations
- Receiving tips on how write the perfect personal statement for medical school applications
- Taking science classes twice a week
- Learning about race relations, advocacy and social determinants of health affecting Latinos
- Meeting with countless medical students and residents
- Participating in hands-on emergency medicine and labor and delivery simulations, and receiving CPR certification.
“This program has been excellent, really, really excellent,” said Lucas Cunha, who attends Skyline College, a community college south of San Francisco. “I came here thinking maybe they’ll show you ways to transfer to a university or get into medical school, but it’s so beyond that, so deep,” Cunha said. “You make connections, you make friends, you meet leaders that work at Kaiser. All that helps you to pursue your dream and show you that you really can do this.”
An unforgettable moment for Andrea Gil, who attends Sacramento City College, was when she gowned up and watched the surgery of a child with third-degree burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California. She was impressed with the dedication of the surgeons.
“I felt like I was awakened just because I could see what these people, who have worked so hard in school, can do to save somebody else’s life,” Gil said. “I almost wanted to cry tears of joy because they were able to do that for someone else.”
Now she, too, wants to be a surgeon.
Prep Médico, which also goes by the tagline “Navigating Your Path into Medicine,” started in 2016 out of concerns about how best to provide health care to Latinos – a group that makes up about 40% of the California population but only 5% of the state's physicians.
The partnership between UC Davis and Kaiser Permanente seems a perfect match: Kaiser’s exclusive medical group, The Permanente Medical Group, is the largest medical group in California, and its patient base is growing more diverse. UC Davis School of Medicine, meanwhile, is passionate about training physicians to care for the underserved.
Prep Médico, in Spanish, is short for Preparando Estudiantes Para Ser Médicos, or Preparing Students to Be Physicians.
“In addition to teaching science, statistics, communication and public health, Prep Médico empowers our students with the knowledge of how to navigate their pathway to medicine, the confidence to access needed resources, the conviction that they have a vital role to play in medicine,” Ton said.
For Marykay Maduike, who learned about Prep Médico from her counselor at American River College, the program has landed her two valuable mentors, including one in obstetrics/gynecology, a field the Nigerian-born and Belize-raised sophomore hopes to pursue.
“So, it’s not only giving you the tools, it’s also introducing you to people who know people who can help you. It’s all about networking,” she said.
Maduike, who describes herself as shy, said the program gave her the confidence to “come out of my shell and ask someone, ‘Hey, can you please by my mentor?’ ”
About 100 students apply for the program from community colleges and four-year schools. Eligibility requirements include a grade point average greater than 2.85, demonstrated interest in medicine, serving Latino populations, and completion of the first semester of general chemistry or general biology.
The program is administered mostly by three people at UC Davis School of Medicine, Mercedes Piedra, Adriana Mora and Romi Sunga, who help promote Prep Médico to community colleges and four-year schools.
Hector Acosta, who attends UCLA, is the ideal recruit.
As a child farmworker laboring in Kerman, west of Fresno, he saw first-hand how family members suffered from health conditions related to their occupation.
His father, who is still a farmworker, “ended up tearing his meniscus from years of wear and tear of bending over picking tomatoes, lettuce.” His uncle has pulmonary emphysema due to excess dust and smoke from burning wood.
“Seeing those chronic conditions develop over time in the farmworkers who are predominantly Hispanic, it really hurt me, especially seeing it within my own family,” he said.
Prep Médico solidified Acosta’s dream of becoming a doctor in Kerman.
When Ton looks out at the graduates tomorrow at the UC Davis MIND Institute Auditorium in Sacramento – a ceremony attended by dozens of family members as well as UC Davis School of Medicine Dean Allison Brashear and Kaiser Permanente leaders – he will see pride and hope.
“I’m going to feel proud, as I would imagine their families to be as they see their loved one make this important step towards an honorable and impactful career. And I hope that this motivated and talented group will bring to bear the experiences and perspectives that will help all of us in the health professions improve care to diverse and underserved communities.”
Among the guests at graduation will be Israel Jurado, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and scholar from Prep Médico's first class. Jurado and others from that cohort are now becoming eligible to apply to medical schools.