Medical student observes as a nurse cares for a patient in the hospital.

Pre-Medical Students Gain Confidence at Pathway to Pediatrics Event

April 20, 2023 by Janet Essman Franz

“Seeing peers and mentors with diverse backgrounds … reassured me of following my career path of becoming a pediatrician."

“Knowing that physicians are working on advocacy makes me excited to be part of the medical field."

“This was truly a transformative experience.  I feel so much more confident in the possibility of me having a future in medicine."

These are some of the reflections of the 20 aspiring medical students from historically underserved populations who gathered at the University of Vermont on April 1 for URiM Pathway to Pediatrics (UPP). Hosted by Larner medical students and funded by the Department of Pediatrics, this one-day program offers a glimpse into medical school for undergraduate students from racial and ethnic groups under-represented in medicine (URiM) who are interested in careers in medicine. The American Association of Medical Colleges defines URiM as racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.

Created by Kiana Heredia ’24 and organized by Larner Class of 2025 medical students Virginia Ramirez, Paige Song, and Isabel Martinez-Daniel, the event welcomed bachelor’s degree students from eight colleges and universities across the northeastern U.S. Larner medical students served as mentors guiding participants through sessions, answering questions about the process of applying to medical school, and providing advice for pre-med coursework.

“Participants gain so much from hearing stories from those who are just a few steps further along on their journey and how they overcame various challenges to get where they are now,” said L.E. Faricy, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, who served as faculty organizer.

Students sitting in a classroom, smiling, listening to someone speaking, talking with each other, talking to faculty

Pictured above, left to right: Undergraduate students from colleges throughout the northeast participating in the URiM Pathway to Pediatrics event on April 1; Class of 2025 medical student Virginia Ramirez (right) speaks with a student; Dr. Lewis First (standing) presents a "Clinical Mystery Case" session in which students work together to determine a child's diagnosis. (photos by David Seaver).

Attendees participated in hands-on rotations in UVM’s Clinical Simulation Laboratory. Activities included interactive simulations to practice colonoscopy and laparoscopic skills and point-of-care ultrasound techniques, care for a newborn baby, treat a child in respiratory distress, understand vital signs, and perform lumbar puncture. During a health advocacy panel session, pediatrics faculty and medical students shared their personal career journeys.

The daylong program also included a "Clinical Mystery Case” session led by Lewis First, M.D., M.S., professor and chair of pediatrics. In addition to fiscal and faculty support for UPP, the department offers Pathways in Pediatric Education, a year-long preceptorship for interested pre-medical students from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine to continue their engagement with pediatric faculty.

“Being able to introduce undergraduate college students who self-identify as under-represented to the field of child health is a meaningful experience for all involved,” First said. “Many of these students stay in touch with people they met from our department, potentially helping to build a diverse pipeline of future pediatricians and child health professionals.”

Heredia created URiM Pathway to Pediatrics in 2022 with an aim to increase workforce diversity and support students historically underrepresented in medicine who feel doubtful about their ability to succeed. It was Heredia’s idea to target pre-medical students in the first years of their undergraduate experience based on the apprehension she felt at that stage of her education.

“Through intentional efforts to uplift the pillars of diversity, equity, and inclusion in medicine, UPP inspires an emerging health care workforce that reflects and serves the diverse needs of our communities,” said Heredia. “This year, we saw how transformative an experience like UPP can be, not only for the undergraduate students, but also for the medical student mentors and faculty."

Pre- and post-event surveys affirm the program’s value: Prior to participating in UPP, only 68 percent of respondents reported they “see themselves as future health care professionals.” That measure jumped to 100 percent after attendance at UPP, with 84 percent indicating interest in pediatrics careers.

“Pediatrics isn’t always on people’s radar when they enter medical school as they may not have had any exposure to it as a career option," said Faricy. "It is a career path that aligns very well with why people are often drawn to medicine in the first place — the desire to help people and cure or prevent illness through an understanding of science and human biology."

Taylor Galgay, a disabled woman studying neuroscience at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, reflected on the experience: “I feel more encouraged than ever. I know I have a place within medicine, not only as the patient but as a physician."

students wearing surgical gloves and face masks practice clinical skills on manikins, including performing a lumbar puncture, caring for a newborn infant, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

In the UVM Clinical Simulation Laboratory, undergraduate students considering careers in medicine practice clinical skills on manikins, including performing a lumbar puncture, cutting an umbilical cord, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. (photos: David Seaver)