Ann Hui Ching, Contributing Photographer

Yishak Bedaso MED ’25 is a first-generation college graduate and current graduate student. 

As a low-income immigrant from Ethiopia, Bedaso is now a third-year medical student and business school candidate at the School of Medicine and the School of Management, having previously completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado-Denver. 

While his parents supported him financially and emotionally, he said that they couldn’t help him navigate the pre-medical path or school-related work more broadly. He received additional support from his older brother and other mentors through various nonprofits but said that he still felt he couldn’t access as many resources as others.  

For Bedaso, though immigrants and FGLI students come from different cultural and geographic backgrounds, they often face similar realities. He noted that his experience was similar to other first-generation immigrant students. 

“[Due to] the language barrier and because of the fact that our parents didn’t go to school here, there’s not much they can do to help in terms of applying for certain things or even keeping things on your radar because they never really were a part of that process,” Bedaso said.

Bedaso noted that he felt an especially large culture shock after moving to New Haven and attending Yale. Fortunately, he said he quickly found community with people who shared his experiences through Yale First Generation/Low Income or YFLI, a group of medical students who meet for dinner once every two weeks to share advice and support each other. To supplement this existing affinity group, Yale Medical School recently launched the First-Generation Low-Income Longitudinal Mentorship Program or the “FGLI LMP.”

Established in September 2023 by Jaime Cavallo, an assistant professor of urology who was an FGLI medical student, FGLI LMP seeks to help medical students develop meaningful relationships with practicing physicians and offer them a variety of learning and career progression opportunities through networking and tailored resources. These mentorships try to provide current medical students, residents and fellows with insights into the ins and outs of a doctor’s life through faculty pairing and mentorship. 

According to a 2021 NIH study, fewer than 25 percent of medical student applicants are FGLI and a majority of medical trainees come from high-income households. Yale’s FGLI LMP program is on a mission to challenge this reality and is not alone. Other medical schools have developed similar programs to ensure that FGLI students are better supported while at school. 

“It feels very scary when you’re the only one in different spaces, whether it’s in the hospital or in the classroom, but then you have that pocket of community to help you interact with the medical school in ways that you couldn’t otherwise,” Bedaso said. “You’ll find these different, different groups of people to help you and so I couldn’t have made it here as it had not been for these people helping me.” 

Natasha Tillet is a resident doctor at Yale New Haven Hospital who said she is passionate about mentorship increasing underrepresented minority and low-income students’ access to medicine and surgical subspecialties. For Tillet, who was the first in her family to attend college and medical school, mentorship was crucial in helping her develop an interest in medicine. 

“The biggest impact of mentorship for me is having someone who has been there, done that, and can help me navigate through challenges. As a Black woman in medicine, specifically a surgical field where there aren’t many of us, it can be isolating and nerve-wracking — feeling like you don’t belong and questioning whether or not you deserve to be where you are,” Tillet wrote in an email to the News. “That feeling is also compounded by coming from a low-income background. It can just generally feel othering. Having mentors who fully understand my experience has been life changing, and I don’t think I would have chosen the field I’m in now without their support.”

In an interview with the News, Nancy Park MED ’25, a fourth-year medical school student, highlighted the importance of resilience and resourcefulness in her journey as a FGLI student. Park’s path to medical school was far from typical. Her parents, who did not attend college, immigrated from South Korea to the United States in search of blue-collar jobs, eventually starting their own restaurant in Augusta, Georgia, where Park was born. While in college, Park worked as a waitress in their restaurant to cover some of her college expenses, such as housing. 

Park said that she especially noticed the difference between FGLI students and non-FGLI students navigating medical and pre-medical school tasks. She said she felt that she was at a disadvantage. 

“I noticed that their parents were telling them exactly what they needed to do during college to move on to the next stuff,” Park said. “I didn’t really have any internal support from my family. The familial and emotional support was there, but I think the logical and practical support wasn’t quite there.”

Park said the Yale environment has been both welcoming and intimidating. She initially felt daunted by her more affluent classmates who were more aware of the expectations of medical school or had parents who attended Ivy League institutions. 

But Park said that the University’s comprehensive financial aid package has allowed her to focus on her studies without fear of financial strain. She also noted that the FGLI student group and the University’s feedback surveys on food security, for example, have reassured her of its commitment to supporting FGLI students.

“In terms of feeling supported as well, I think just because of my peers coming from a lot of different backgrounds, everyone that I’ve met in my class has been really awesome,” Park said to the News. 

Park emphasized the importance of mentorship pipelines and ensuring that students eventually make it through medical school. Park said that she benefited from having experienced research mentors and peer mentors within the medical community to guide her through her medical journey and offer her insights and support. 

Park noted that she tries to extend this generosity to others. She currently reviews personal statements for students at her alma mater and advocates for more diverse representation in future medical school classes. 

“I feel like finding a mentor and a specialty or, in general, a field that you’re interested in is really important,” Park said. “I’ve benefited so much from having, for example, research mentors that are decades out in my field,” Park said. 

Readers can learn more about the First-Generation Low-Income Longitudinal Mentorship Program online.

Abel Geleta covers Yale New Haven Health (YNHH) for the Science and Technology desk at the News. Previously, he covered stories and topics at the intersection of Science and Social Justice. Originally from Ethiopia, Abel has lived in northern Virginia for the past 12 years. He is currently a junior in Berkeley college studying History of Science, Medicine and Public Health as a scholar in the Global Health Studies Program