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OHSU Helps Disadvantaged Youth Get Into Health Careers

OHSU Health Careers Opportunity Program provides pipeline for underprivileged students who want to enter medical, physician assistant and pharmacy schools.

Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine's new Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) is helping disadvantaged high school, college and post-college students overcome socioeconomic, educational and cultural barriers to get into medical, physician assistant and pharmacy schools.

Through this program, which is funded through a highly coveted, three-year $1.2 million competitive grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, OHSU hopes to increase the number of clinicians from underprivileged backgrounds who ultimately will provide health care to the underserved.

"We anticipate that with academic assistance, motivated students facing economic and educational barriers will be more likely to gain admission into health care professional programs," said Stephanie Anderson, M.D., principal investigator for the grant and assistant dean for minority affairs in the OHSU School of Medicine. "We believe these students can do the work if given the opportunity. With this program, we have the potential to change the face of training programs at OHSU."

Shannel Adams, 23, a recent graduate of Duke University and a Portland St. Mary's Academy alumnus, was chosen to participate in one of the HCOP's summer programs. For ten intense weeks, Adams and 13 other pre-med students were enrolled in the HCOP Professions Testing Program, which prepares students for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

The program is administered by School of Medicine faculty and students, and utilizes the most current and comprehensive study materials available. It also allows the students a rare opportunity to pick the brains of the dean and assistant deans of the medical, pharmacy and physician assistant schools; financial aid experts; career planners; learning specialists; faculty members and health career students, who give them expert advice on what it takes to be a competitive applicant. In addition, the students pair up with a faculty member in various specialties for four hours once weekly, learning what a day in the life of a physician or physician assistant is really like.

"A lot of students say they want to be doctors before they know what it's really like. This program either affirms that you want to do it, or not. It's a reality check," said Adams. "Plus, I paid for the last 3  years of college with loans, and without this program, I wouldn't have been able to afford the materials necessary for preparing for the MCAT. Without this opportunity, I would be half as prepared."

The testing program covers the cost of a Kaplan MCAT or GRE course, and provides room and board in the Portland State University dormitory. The students also receive a stipend to replace wages they might otherwise have earned had they instead chose to work during the summer. Students are eligible for the Health Professions Testing program beginning their junior year in college.

In addition to the Health Professions Testing program, the OHSU HCOP partners School of Medicine faculty with local high school advisers and science teachers to identify economically or educationally underserved students with an interest in health careers, and an aptitude for math and science. These students are then invited to apply for admission to the HCOP's Springboard Program, where they are exposed to all facets of health care, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation, universal precautions and suturing, research and presentation skills.

Through the Springboard Program, the students have access to role models, health care certification classes, job shadowing and research opportunities. Understanding the nuances of various cultural beliefs and practices, otherwise known as cultural competency, is an integral part of the program, along with interpersonal relationship development and negotiation skills to enhance their competitiveness and improve retention.

Springboard Program students are assigned a student mentor and adviser who provides support and counseling throughout the academic year, and take part in a one-day motivational conference in late September. HCOP staff use grade point average (GPA), and test scores as benchmarks for tracking students' success.

The next Springboard Program conference will be held Saturday, Sept. 24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Space is available. To register call 503 494-1681.

Following high school and before entering college, the students are invited to participate in the HCOP Early Success program, which offers a no-cost introduction to college math and science classes at Portland Community College for four weeks during the summer. Students in the program are paid stipends to offset wages they might have earned during the summer working at a minimum-wage job, and receive room and board at Portland State University.

Formal partners in the OHSU School of Medicine HCOP include Benson, Roosevelt and Jefferson high schools; Portland State, Oregon State and Willamette universities; Portland Community College Cascade Campus; and OHSU's Area Health Education Centers.


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