Stacy Du was always interested in pursuing a career in medicine but didn’t know where to find information about different options. Then she heard about the UC Davis Health Equity Academy – Leaders for Tomorrow’s Healthcare (HEALTH) Program and decided to apply.
“I was accepted and attended the spring 2021 session of HEALTH which was held virtually,” said Du, an incoming senior at John C. Kimball High School in Tracy. “It was great and gave me a chance to learn about something I was really interested in. I was also able to interact with other students who wanted to learn more about the medical field.”
HEALTH is an outreach program for students in grades 9-12 that provides exposure to and guidance about health care careers. It was started in 2019 and is run through the UC Davis School of Medicine’s Office of Student and Resident Diversity.
The program’s objective is to connect with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are from culturally diverse families. The hope is to spark an interest in pursuing careers in health care or medicine, increasing health literacy and establishing a relationship with the local community.
HEALTH is offered three times a year and includes six sessions, which are taught by health professionals, current medical students, resident physicians and other trainees. Participants learn about different areas of medicine and health care, including community health, hematology/oncology, cardiology, labor and delivery, infectious diseases and stroke awareness. They also work in teams to develop a research presentation and examine public health issues in their community. Approximately 50 students are accepted in each cohort.
“This program is important because it provides a path for high school students from disadvantaged, underrepresented, or rural backgrounds to access medical knowledge, resources and mentorship from medical students and health care professionals,” said Larly Lee, early academic preparation coordinator and HEALTH program coordinator. “It inspires youth to dream big and become future health care leaders. It’s also an opportunity for medical students and health care professionals to give back to our youth and help boost their confidence because the health career path is not easy.”
This program is important because it provides a path for high school students from disadvantaged, underrepresented, or rural backgrounds to access medical knowledge, resources and mentorship from medical students and health care professionals.”
Providing mentorship and resources for higher education
For Du, the program gave her insight into potential health care careers and how to reach her educational goals. “I’ll be one of the first in my family to attend college, so I don’t have people around me who have taken that path,” she said. “HEALTH gave me resources to help prepare for college, and mentorship from physicians, medical students and college advisors. It was encouraging to hear their experiences and realize that I could pursue my career goals in medicine.”
Lee also emphasized the significant role mentors play in the program. “HEALTH is an amazing program because of all the medical students and health care professionals who volunteer their time to teach medical education and share their stories,” he said.
Several of those mentors are from the Department of Neurology and led by Alan Yee, associate clinical professor. The team has been involved in HEALTH since November 2021 and presents a session on stroke education and awareness, which Yee developed.
One of my goals is to do outreach to kids from underserved communities. It’s important for all populations to be reflected in the field of health care. If I can get one child to become a neurologist, it will be worth it.”
“Our session is designed to teach the fundamentals of neurology as it pertains to stroke awareness,” Yee said. “We want to engage students and educate them about the warning signs of strokes, and how to prevent them. We also encourage the students to teach their families about stroke awareness.”
Yee said he’s excited about the opportunity to reach students who may not have access to information about health care careers. “One of my goals is to do outreach to kids from underserved communities,” he said. “It’s important for all populations to be reflected in the field of health care. If I can get one child to become a neurologist, it will be worth it.”
Additionally, Lee recently developed a student research mentor component to HEALTH, which allows past participants to mentor new student groups in the program. Du volunteered as a student research mentor for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 cohorts and encouraged other students to get involved.
“The HEALTH program provides a wonderful opportunity to get guidance on your future career goals,” Du said. “It’s never too soon to start planning, and if you begin early, you can accomplish anything.”