Vol. 13 No. 1 - August, 2010

Area students explore science careers at UMMS

Summer programs offer hands-on learning

This story was researched and written by Caroline Hudson, summer intern in the UMMS Office of Communication. She is a student at St. Michael's College in Vermont.

Once the commencement tent comes down and the pace of campus slows, small clusters of young people with bright blue backpacks emblazoned with the UMMS logo or in blue lab coats seem to suddenly appear just about everywhere. Most of them seem far too young to be medical students, but they carry themselves in such a professional and poised way, that many members of the UMMS community are left wondering, who are these mysterious visitors?

These programs demonstrate UMass Medical School’s

long-term commitment to bringing diversity to the health care, nursing and biomedical research work force.

Deborah Harmon Hines, PhD

It may come as a surprise that they are high school and college students. Most students cherish the summer as an opportunity to take a break from academic studies, but these are motivated students from economically disadvantaged or under-represented groups who normally might not have the resources to find their way into the medical profession. Through the UMMS College Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) and the High School Health Careers Program (HSHCP), under the direction of Robert Layne, MEd, these students are on our campus to explore medicine and science and plan their academic career paths.

Both the SEP and HSHCP, offered through the Office of School Services, are four-week, tuition-free, residential experiences designed to enhance participants’ academic and communication skills. Participants of both programs must be from an economically or educationally disadvantaged background or from an under-represented group in medicine, nursing and biomedical research. Both programs are extremely competitive and receive numerous applications for the 10 slots in the SEP and the 20 slots in the HSHCP. Participants must currently attend a Massachusetts high school, college or university or must have graduated from a Massachusetts high school.

“These programs demonstrate UMass Medical School’s long-term commitment to bringing diversity to the health care, nursing and biomedical research work force,” said Deborah Harmon Hines, PhD, vice provost for School Services and professor of cell biology.

The SEP helps sophomore and junior college students improve their academic skills through critical thinking, time management and decision making, and enhance their communication skills through public speaking and mock interviews. Throughout the two programs, both groups of students research a health disparity in Massachusetts and create a presentation that is later judged by UMMS faculty. Throughout their four-week stay, students learn about the medical school, nursing school or graduate school application process and get to practice taking standardized exams such as the MCAT and GRE. SEP students shadow residents in the hospital’s emergency room on weekends. The HSHCP students intern in the clinical areas during the week.

Alex Tajeda, a rising junior at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and a graduate of Roxbury Latin High School, was particularly impressed with emergency medicine, a field he had not considered prior to his experience this summer, when he got a behind-the-scenes peek at the relationships between emergency room patients and their doctors, nurses, residents and other caregivers. In considering his own career options, Tajeda thought that the pace of emergency medicine would give him a fulfilling career and its set schedule, with few “on call” hours, would give him time for a family in the future

Everyone came from a different background,

but we all came with one interest: to go to medical school or into science-related career.

Alex Tajeda

Through seminars presented by faculty and health care providers from a variety of specialties—and through speaking with current medical students about their own career paths and plans—Tajeda said he has learned much about the medical field during the SEP. Interacting in small groups, he said, is vastly different than listening to presentations in large lecture halls. “There were only 10 of us in a room, so it was a lot more intimate. We also had the head of admissions come and speak to us. Those kinds of situations are hard to find in college and that has been one of the most helpful things.”


At the outset of the program, each student meets with Dr. Hines and other faculty and staff to identify and set goals and objectives. At the end of four weeks, program faculty write individualized reports, identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses. Each student has a one-on-one post-program debriefing meeting with Hines where his/her individualized strategy is developed. Tajeda had the opportunity to review his options and learn what he’ll need to do to get into medical school following graduation from Dartmouth. “We all know the goal that we want to reach and this program helped us learn what we need to do to get there,” he said.

In addition to such insight and advice, Tajeda will also take with him new bonds, friendships and a network formed among his fellow participants.

“Since there were only 10 of us, we learned to work as a team and really became a cohesive unit. Everyone came from a different background, but we all came with one interest: to go to medical school or into science-related career,” Tajeda said. “Meeting people who are interested in the same things and are supportive was, by far, my favorite part of this program.”

While the SEP has a very targeted goal for participants, the HSHCP focuses on more broadly educating high school students about various professions in both health care and science fields and strives to help participants set high academic goals and develop strategies to achieve those goals. The program, which is open to current sophomores or juniors at Massachusetts high schools, includes sessions on language arts skills, mathematics, science/biology and information technology, and students participate in an internship to interact with health care professionals and gain hands-on experience.

Issa Noel, a rising junior at North High School in Worcester, found the classroom sessions to be informative and very different from his classes in high school. He felt students gained experience and knowledge that will help guide them toward developing and achieving future aspirations.

“This program goes very deep into the field of medicine and you get to know it really well. We also get to learn what medical school is all about,” said Noel, whose internship—his favorite part of the program—introduced him to pharmacy, a field he had not previously considered.

“The program has improved my communication skills and I now feel more comfortable speaking with people. I have a better feel of what the medical field actually is,” said Anisa Mills, a rising senior at SABIS International Charter School in Springfield. “From my four weeks here, I’ve learned that I need to work really hard because it’s not going to be easy. I need to stay focused."