Students Introduced to the Health Professions with Two Campus Events

By Nancy Dockter, MPH
Diversity Process Coordinator
Center for Diversity Affairs

                         Medical student volunteers Zoe Anaman, Lawson Smith and Nana-aishatu Adamu. 

                         Medical student John Sherrill with HPREP participants Alex Diaz and Tavion English
in the Simulation Lab.


Underrepresented minority students from across Arkansas had two opportunities in March to come to UAMS and learn about the health professions and what it takes to succeed. More than 120 students, grades 8 through 12, devoted a Saturday in early March to the Health Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP) Conference, which was organized by members of the Student National Medical Association.

During spring break, about 60 students got more in-depth exposure to what UAMS has to offer with a four-day program, the first annual Spring Forward Health Profession Camp, which was sponsored by the Center for Diversity Affairs. The programs targeted students who may have limited knowledge of, or exposure to, career opportunities in the health professions.

Medical students A.P. Parsons and Desiree Burroughs-Ray chiseled out time to organize the HPREP Conference and recruited a band of their peers to help. Every year, the event is put on by the UAMS chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) with support from the Center for Diversity Affairs. This year was the largest turnout ever.

“We volunteered at last year’s HPREP Conference and decided to continue our involvement this year as co-chairs,” Parsons explained. “We feel diversity is important in health care and here at UAMS and enjoy working to increase diversity in both areas.”

Both events were packed with activities – tours, hands-on experiences, trainings – and infused with words of wisdom on a host of topics from financial aid to studying to academic planning. Motivational speaker and educator Chandra Gill, PhD delivered a stirring keynote on what it takes to succeed in school and in life.

Many departments generously opened their doors and gave of their time to give students a look at what they do and a host of related careers – the Tissue Bank, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the College of Health Profession’s surgical, respiratory and emergency medical technology programs, the Spine Center teaching labs, the Department of Neurology’s gross anatomy lab, the College of Pharmacy’s compounding lab, and the Simulation Center, to name but a few.

“We tried to expose them to pathology, medicine, nursing, pharmacy; across the gamut, we covered the whole university,” said Nick Pettus, senior diversity specialist for the Center for Diversity Affairs.

When most students arrived at either event, they could only name a handful of health careers. Hearing recruiters and students from the colleges and Graduate School speak, a spectrum of possibilities opened up to them.

Carmen Cornice, a junior at McClellan High in Little Rock whose favorite academic subject is biology, has plans to become either an engineer or a physical therapist. The HPREP showed her that she would not have to choose one over the other.

“It was a good day – there was a lot of good information,” she said at the end. “It was different knowing that there are almost 100 types of degrees under the health professions. Now I figured out that you can do engineering in medicine!”

Jaelisa Payne, a freshman at Earle High School near Memphis, at first hadn’t been enthusiastic about giving up most of her spring break to participate in Spring Forward, but by the last day, she was glad that she had.

“My auntee signed me up, and I didn’t really want to come, but it has opened new doors for me, things that I had never thought about, exposed me to things that I’ve never experienced,” she said.

The visit to the Simulation Center in particular, had an impact.

“Before coming here, I wanted to be a costmetologist, but now I am thinking about being a simulation engineer,” she said.

Maumelle High freshman Cory Jones would like to be a professional athlete, but said that the Spring Forward gave him some ideas for a “back-up.” The Sim Lab kindled his interest, as did the neuroscience labs.

“We got to know the parts of the brain, and I really like science; now I am thinking about physical therapy,” he said.

Parkview High junior Alex Diaz, who attended HPREP, is from Honduras, but has lived in the United States for 13 years.

“I very recently started to have an interest in the medical field. I like science a lot. I was considering engineering, but recently had an epiphany … I am good in math, but I really enjoy and love science.”

Diaz came to HPREP considering going into nursing, but the event gave him new information for his deliberations about career choices. “I really enjoyed it. It touched on all the career paths.”

He would be the first in his family to graduate from college.

“I am really, really determined,” he said.