From community college to medical school

When Jessica de Laguna grew up in a foster home near San Francisco, she felt no one had time to help her focus on what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I’ve just learned to survive,” says De Laguna, who identifies as a Yaqui Native American.

After graduating from high school, de Laguna was more focused on getting a job that would help pay for living than thinking about college. Her experience in helping her visually impaired neighbor attend her physical therapy appointment sparked her interest in medicine when she worked at a bank.

With no college degree and her only medical experience volunteering as a physical therapy assistant, De Laguna began her medical career as a receptionist at a student clinic. She then took a job as a care coordinator at a hospital and got her extra shifts to work in different departments from emergency medicine to neurosurgery.

“I worked in every possible department so that I could learn as much as possible without going to medical school,” De Laguna says.

After working in a hospital for eight years, she thought she could be a doctor.

This thought inspired her to research what it would take to get a bachelor’s degree and enter medical school. So she hopes to become a psychiatrist, doctor and scientist and engage in mental health research to help people like her who experienced her childhood trauma. .

In 2021, after 15 years out of the classroom, De Laguna decided to commit to her dream of becoming a doctor, joining Sacramento City College and American River College, both part of California Community Colleges, as a full-time student. I enrolled. In Systems, I am a double major in biology and chemical technology.

She learned about AvenueM, a new program at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) School of Medicine, aimed at recruiting community college students and supporting them on their path to medical school through the community college system. The program’s goal is to diversify the physician workforce and meet the needs of underserved communities.

“Once students apply, a serious effort is required to adequately assess their external competencies. [the fact] They go to community college and see that as a value rather than a drawback. ”

Dr. Efrain Talamantes, Chief Operating Officer, AltaMed Health Services

“We started to seriously consider our path to medical school,” says Charlene Greene, Ph.D., associate dean of admissions, outreach and diversity at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. “While this is all long-term work, we have worked really hard to strengthen our pool of applicants with a personal mission to care for the specific communities we target here in California. .”

It’s a strategy some medical schools are using to find solutions to the worsening shortage of doctors and the barriers that underserved communities face in accessing healthcare.

Some proponents of the approach hope it will help counteract the prejudices and disadvantages that community-college students may face when applying to medical school.

“One of the things I’ve noticed in my volunteer work on various medical school admissions committees and boards is that community college students aren’t just taken more seriously. is. [than in previous years] — but the value they bring to the campus is really appreciated,” said Chief Operating Officer of Altamed Health Services, a community health network based in Southern California, and former head of the University of California, Davis Reduction Center. Deputy Director Efrain Talamantes, M.D., said. health disparities. “Once students apply, a serious effort is required to adequately assess their external competencies. [the fact] They go to community college and see that as a value rather than a drawback. ”

reach underrepresented people

For Thalamantes, the mission to expand opportunities for community college students is personal. As someone who himself attended community college before entering medical school, he has long advocated removing similar student barriers.

“When I was in medical school and on the admissions committee, it was clear that there was bias. [against] People who went to community colleges were much more valued than those who went straight to four-year colleges,” Thalamantes recalls. “So I started really asking why and trying to understand what I could do about it.”

In 2014, Thalamantes and several other researchers analyzed medical school applicants and admissions data and found that those who attended a community college before graduating from a four-year college were more successful than those who went directly to medical school. I found it unlikely. 4 year university. In a 2018 study, Talamantes and colleagues found that students who attended community colleges before entering medical school were more likely to pursue a specialty in family medicine and want to work in underserved communities. discovered.

“We found that not only are these students from underrepresented backgrounds, but many of them are low-income or are the first in their families to go to college,” says Thalamantes. says Mr. “So, it proved that community colleges had a lot of good candidates. And that led us down a different path. and how to cooperate with

local approach

While working at the Center for the Reduction of Health Disparities at the University of California, Davis, Talamantes helped foster relationships with community colleges in the Sacramento area, laying the foundation for what would become AvenueM and the California Medical Scholars Program. The effort, funded by state and philanthropic organizations, will begin in 2022 and will strengthen regional hubs that have had ongoing partnerships with local community colleges, providing new opportunities for growth in the program and forging new partnerships. The purpose is to support the base.

California has four regional hubs, made up of medical schools, community colleges, clinics and other local service providers, each at a different stage of development, said Dr. Rowena Robles, executive director of the California Medical Scholar Program. said.

“The regional focus is so that the institution knows the region, the students and the needs,” she explains.

According to Robles, the program will help members of the community to do more, from holding medical school stakeholder meetings on weekends and inviting families to participate, to ensuring outreach efforts based on cultural humility. It is specially tailored for

“Rather than we wait for them to go to school, [and] To apply to medical school, we’re saying, “I think you’re great.” You are exactly the type of student we want as a doctor in California and as a medical student at UC Davis. ”

Tonya Fancher, M.D., Associate Dean for Workforce Innovation and Community Engagement, UC Davis School of Medicine

It also emphasizes the “warm handover”. This means that students selected for the Pathway Program will be provided with tailored services and programs throughout the process, from community colleges to four-year colleges and medical schools, through a mentoring and supportive staff and faculty. means that there is school.

De Laguna is among the first group of students to benefit from the California Medical Scholars Program, which funds the AvenueM initiative at the University of California, Davis. She saw the difference her excellent teaching made when her chemistry professor took the time to hone her study skills and introduced her to her medical research. She is currently working with undergraduate researchers on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, focuses on maintaining good grades in her classes, and plans to study at the University of California, Davis in 2024 to complete her bachelor’s degree. I participate in extracurricular activities that help me prepare to transfer to school. As planned, she will start her medical school in 2026.

I am confident that by joining the AvenueM Pathway program, I will have the support I need to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor.

“They will meet you where you are. If you want to become a doctor, they will help you become a doctor. It’s done to find out who you are as a human being,” de Laguna says. “And I think what got me through was my drive, my passion, and people seeing me as a person and thinking, ‘Yeah, I can go somewhere with her. .”

Including De Laguna, UC Davis has enrolled 30 students from local community colleges in the AvenueM program and hopes to add 20 more to this initial student in the coming months. there is

“Rather than we wait for them to go to school, [and] To apply to medical school, we’re saying, “I think you’re great.” As a California physician and UC Davis medical student, you are exactly the type of student we are looking for. So let’s meet and work together and take this journey together,” says Tonya Fancher, M.D., associate dean of workforce innovation and community engagement at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine. “There’s no question that it takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it.”

And it’s this local focus that Fancher and others involved in developing these assistance programs hope will ultimately result in healthier communities.

“We believe a workforce that is more reflective of the community will provide better care,” says Fancher. “It is our responsibility to build bridges to the community.”

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