Students try health professions

Each Saturday, a select group of high school students descend upon the Yale School of Medicine to plan for the future — learning about research in cutting-edge medical professions and prepping for successful college applications.

Known as the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP), the 10-week session targets minority students with an interest in science and the health professions who are currently sophomores and juniors at New Haven high schools. Medical students plan and coordinate HPREP, which began on Jan. 4 this year and meets every Saturday. The program is entirely volunteer based, relying on faculty and students at the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health and other health-related centers in the area.

“The idea is to try to recruit students’ interested in science and in health careers … but the heart and soul of the program is students getting together with our students,” said Dr. Forrester Lee MED ’79, a professor of medicine and assistant dean for multicultural affairs.

HPREP is a national program established by the Student National Medical Association. The co-coordinator of its Yale chapter, Danilo Rojas-Velasquez MED ’16, said the local chapters of the Student National Medical Association and the Latino Medical Student Association work closely on a number of programs, such as HPREP that aim to “[build] a pipeline” into the medical professions. According to Lee, the New Haven chapter is over 20 years old.

Despite the longevity of the program, Lee said that it has been “pretty true to its roots.” A range of 30 to 50 students may attend the program in a given year.

“This year we have about 29 students coming in because we wanted to focus on a smaller group,” said Gerneiva Parkinson MED ’16, the other co-coordinator of the program. “It gives us more access and one-on-one time with the students.”

Typically, each three-hour session is composed of a lecture conducted by a Yale faculty member, an activity inspired by the lecture and a skills-building workshop. According to Rojas-Velasquez, lecture topics vary greatly, from a particular profession to ethics and health disparities.

The workshops usually focus on improving writing techniques and often relate to college application essays or research papers. At the end of the program, students present research projects on a topic in health.

Parkinson added that Yale undergraduates will participate in a college admissions panel with the HPREP students later this winter.

“I hope we make that application process a little less mysterious and let them know that it’s very possible because students like them are in medical school now,” Rojas-Velasquez said.

Lee said approximately 90 percent of HPREP attendees go to college.

At the end of the program, college scholarships are awarded to the students for a variety of reasons, from best essay to most participation. The number of scholarships depends on how much money has been raised in a given year and can range from $500 to $1000, Lee said.

Lee said the HPREP coordinators typically ask Yale faculty and departments to attend events or make donations. He added that a multicultural talent show held in early March, “Grannum,” also provides extensive funds. Rojas-Velasquez said that a boost to the fundraising effort has come in the form of a Latin Dance Night at GPSCY that raised over $1,000 in October.

Both coordinators agreed that fundraising was a challenge.

“We want to give more scholarships out because there are some students who are really outstanding,” Parkinson said.

Lee said, even more than fundraising, the main difficulty the program faces is finding two student leaders to coordinate the program each year, as medical school students already balance busy schedules.

In trying to obtain volunteers from a variety of Yale schools, the coordinators do not require students to attend every session. Thus, the number of volunteers varies every week, from around five to eight, according to Parkinson.

“Some of the high school students think our medical students and public health students are like gods,” Lee said. “They just totally latch onto them as mentoring figures and role models.”

HPREP was the recipient of the Graduate Ivy Award in 2011.

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