People wearing name badges, posing for a photo on the balcony in the Larner College of Medicine
Presidents and executive leaders of Student National Medical Association (SNMA) chapters at medical schools across New England gathered for a photo in the Hoehl Gallery. These include Meron Yishak '26 (eighth from left) and Manny Ogunlana '26 (fifth from right), co-presidents of the University of Vermont's SNMA chapter. (Photo: Erzsebet Nagy ’26)

Uplifting Voices: Medical Students’ Conference Celebrates Diversity

November 17, 2023 by Janet Essman Franz

More than 100 medical and pre-medical students from throughout New England gathered at the Larner College of Medicine on November 10–11 for the Region VII Medical Education Conference (RMEC), hosted by the University of Vermont’s Student National Medical Association (SNMA). The event marked the first SNMA conference hosted by UVM. The conference theme, “Uplifting Voices: Celebrating Diversity in Medicine,” reflected SNMA members’ passion for ensuring that people from populations underrepresented in the profession of medicine are empowered to pursue medical careers.

Larner Class of 2026 medical students Emmanuel “Manny” Ogunlana and Meron Yishak, co-presidents of SNMA at UVM, served as conference chairs, working alongside their SNMA executive board colleagues and fellow Class of 2026 students Adama Aja, Jacquelyn Ferguson, Shani Legore, and Ian Minearo. They organized a robust program of speakers and workshops along with a research poster forum, mentoring session for high school students, and community service project with the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington. Yishak and Ogunlana gave opening remarks.

“Although we might all come from different institutions and different backgrounds, what unites us is SNMA in our mission of diversifying the face of medicine and providing equitable care to all," Yishak said.

Margaret Tandoh, M.D., FACS, associate professor of surgery and associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, welcomed attendees at a dinner on Friday evening at the UVM Alumni House. Tandoh described the history of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at UVM’s medical college, highlighting recent such advancements as pathway programs for pre-medical students, holistic admissions and residency applications processes, and nurturing minority faculty. She also described efforts to address the needs of underserved communities and increase the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent, and socially conscious physicians, emphasizing that “health cannot exist where justice does not prevail."

People seated in an auditorium-style classroom, listening and looking at a speaker, who is not shown

Medical students from institutions throughout New England gathered at the Larner College of Medicine for learning, exploring career paths, sharing experiences, and networking. (Photo: David Seaver)

Two people practicing cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills on manikinsIn the Sullivan Classroom, medical students practiced cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills on infant manikins. (Photo: David Seaver)

Elizabeth Bonney, M.D., M.P.H., professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences and division director for reproductive science research, gave the keynote address on Saturday in the Sullivan classroom. Bonney candidly described her academic and career journey, including the obstacles she faced as a Black woman in science, and the strategies she used to overcome them, and she provided tactics for navigating them: “Number one, remember that you belong in medicine, and moreover, you are desperately needed,” Bonney said. “Number two, when someone tells you that you can’t do something, don’t listen. The only people to listen to are those who say, ‘Okay, you want to do this, here are the obstacles you may run into, the barriers you may face, and if you need help along the way, let me know.”

Bonney’s list of tips also included: Become an expert on an aspect of medicine you are passionate about; get hands-on opportunities to lead and shine; and document everything along the way, but be very purposeful about what you say publicly.

“Keep a journal, document difficult conversations and also positive feedback,” Bonney said. “When a particularly difficult situation arises, write the angry email, but don’t send it. Use it to write a paper in an editorially reviewed document, and get other people interested to work with you."

During interactive workshops, participants explored how to align research with their own identities and goals, how to respond to microaggressions in the medical workforce, and how to empower patients to be self-advocates in the face of a hostile medical system. They also considered the experiences of people of color practicing health care in a predominantly white area, and the importance of prioritizing self-care and finding a healthy work-life balance.

Practical sessions provided opportunities to practice skills in writing personal statements and interviewing for medical school admissions, phlebotomy, suturing, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. At a research forum, medical students showcased their scientific investigations and provided inspiration to those considering pursuing research.

“Remember that you belong in medicine, and moreover, you are desperately needed.”

Elizabeth Bonney, M.D., M.P.H.

High school students explored pathways to medical education in a session titled Pipeline Mentoring Institute, at which current medical students answered questions about the pre-medical college preparations, admissions, medical college admissions testing, and the lived experiences of Black and Brown medical students.

Larner faculty presenting workshops included Leila Amiri, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and associate dean for admissions; Karen George, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences and associate dean for students; Erin Ostby, M.D., assistant professor of surgery; Anisha Rimal, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics; Maya Strange, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program; Tandoh; Anthony Williams, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine and assistant dean for medical student admissions; Jeffery Young, M.D., assistant professor of surgery; Christa Zehle, M.D., professor of pediatrics and senior associate dean for medical education. Additional presenters from UVM included Noma Anderson, Ph.D., professor of communication sciences and disorders and dean of UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences; and Miller Celestin, M.S.N., RN, CEN, CMSRN, clinical assistant professor of nursing.

Larner staff coordinating the event included Amanda Broder, conference and member event coordinator for The Teaching Academy; Terry Caron, M.Ed., director of continuing medical and interprofessional education; and Emily Iamarino, M.P.H., events and programs coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

People taking a selfie in front of a banner with the SNMA logo

Larner College of Medicine SNMA executive board members gathered for a selfie with faculty advisor Margaret Tandoh, M.D., FACS (clockwise, from top right): Jacquelyn Ferguson, Shani Legore, Ian Minearo, Adama Aja, Manny Ogunlana, and Meron Yishak. (Photo: David Seaver)

People wearing physicians' white coats pose for a photo in a lecture hall

Student National Medical Association members donned their white coats for a group photo. (Photo: David Seaver)