UAMS’ Health Career U. Wraps Up Summer Programs

By Chris Carmody

Health Career U, which encompasses a variety of programs serving high school and undergraduate students from across the state and region, enrolled 75 participants this summer.

Students in their last two years of high school or their first two years of college can enter the Health Career U pipeline through the Summer Research Internship (SRI) program. The eight-week program allows students to expand their understanding of health careers by conducting science-based research.

Participants spent five days a week in the lab, working with mentors and going over experiments. They also attended workshops to learn more about how to conduct research and write papers.

“Our SRI students worked directly with renowned UAMS biomedical researchers in their labs performing transformational research,” said Gloria Richard-Davis, M.D., MBA, the division’s executive director. “The students had the opportunity to present their research at UAMS and at state research symposiums.”

Zaryah Smith, a junior at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School in Little Rock, examined DNA damage in healthy cells and in those of cancer patients. “It’s been really fun,” she said. “Going back to high school, I can brag that I spent the summer working with all this high-tech equipment.”

Freshman and sophomore college students can also learn more about careers in health care through the four-week Pre-Health Summer Scholars Program. Participants learn about cutting-edge medical treatments and technology, and they get the chance to collaborate with leaders in the health care industry.

“This program helps them create their road map to medical and other health professional schools,” said Renisha Ward, director of outreach programs in the division.

The eight-week Pre-Medical Summer Scholars program focuses on getting students into medical school. Pre-medical students receive mentorship from faculty and medical students and professional assistance with preparation for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and with their medical school applications.

For some students, getting into medical school isn’t a question of aptitude, Ward said. The goal of the Pre-Medical Summer Scholars program is to remove barriers that can prevent them from passing the admission test.

“Student testimonials highlight how they would never have had these opportunities without this program, and how these experiences helped them better prepare for a health career and applying to professional school, i.e. medical, pharmacy and others,” Richard-Davis said.

Guillermo Leyva, a University of Arkansas-Fayetteville student, said the program provided him with a number of helpful resources. “It’s awesome that we were able to get together with people who have the same ambitions as we do,” he said.

Health Career U also helps students through the HBCU Med Track Program, a partnership with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and Philander Smith College. Students from those historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) receive career guidance and academic resources from UAMS.

Within the HBCU Med Track, the Anesthesia Tech Pipeline program works with students who have graduated college but aren’t prepared to go directly to medical school. Ward said the program serves as a “gap year” during which students are trained and hired as anesthesia technicians, allowing them to gain experience in the medical field.

Roshuna Harris, a UAPB graduate, said participants also took part in an eight-week summer boot camp to prepare them for the MCAT. “It’s been very rewarding,” Harris said of the program. “It has exposed me to new opportunities, learning how to network with people on campus.”

The Serving Underrepresented Populations Through Engagement and Research (SUPER) program is also part of the HBCU Med Track. The SUPER program, which begins in July and concludes in May, teaches college students what it means to be researchers.

At a weeklong summer event, students learned about health disparities and about the process and ethics in conducting research. They also heard from recruitment specialists who described some of the areas of study offered by UAMS.

Kandace Jimmerson, a participant in the HBCU Med Track and Pre-Health Summer programs, attended the SUPER event. The UAPB sophomore said Health Career U encourages students to consider all their options in the medical field.

“It’s been good to me because I’ve had my mind set on one thing, but this has shown all the other things I could do,” said Jimmerson, who aspires to be a physician assistant specializing in neonatology.

Looking ahead, Richard-Davis said Health Career U plans to increase its capacity and add a year-round dimension to keep in touch with students and support them in their academic pursuits. “We need to increase capacity, as each year we have great applicants that we sadly cannot accommodate,” she said.

Ward said the opportunities that were created for students this summer will become evident in the next few years.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed watching is the maturity that grew over the summer as the students understood that this opportunity doesn’t come along very often,” Ward said. “Seeing their faces light up has been almost like Christmas. I know that what we’re doing will have long-term effects across the state, and we’re excited to do our part to sprinkle the water and watch these seeds grow into mighty oaks.”