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Norma Poll-Hunter, co-director of SMDEP, discusses the program's history.

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SMDEP: Celebrating 25 Years

SMDEP’s roots go back 25 years, to 1989 when it accepted its first cohort of scholars. Experts had been documenting declines in medical school applicants from diverse backgrounds starting in 1977, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiated a study in 1984 to identify strategies to reverse those trends.  Findings contributed to the development of the Minority Medical Education Program (MMEP), which aimed to increase the acceptance rates of medical school applicants from racial and ethnic groups who were underrepresented in medicine—African Americans, Mexican Americans, mainland Puerto Ricans, and American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Over the years, MMEP’s intensive academic preparation program expanded to 11 medical school campuses. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) assumed the role of National Program Office in 1993.

In 2003, the program changed its name to the Summer Medical Education Program (SMEP), reflecting the inclusion of students representing a range of economic, cultural and geographic diversity. The program expanded to include dentistry in 2005, and was renamed the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP). Today, both the AAMC and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) serve as the National Program Office, providing technical assistance and direction for the program.

Chelsea Brockway, SMDEP Class of 2007

Chelsea Brockway, SMDEP Class of 2007

'I don’t want to have a career that serves only the most privileged people.'

                         Chelsea Brockway

The Intersection of Diversity and Disparity

Chelsea Brockway, SMDEP Class of 2007

In the 14 years since then-Surgeon General David Satcher sounded the alarm about the “silent epidemic” of oral health disparities in the United States, the gaps in dental care for underserved populations remain wide and unabated.

Chelsea Brockway, DDS, was 13 when Oral Health in America was issued, but she had already discovered what the report made abundantly clear: that a more diverse health workforce will improve care for racial and ethnic minorities.

Brockway, 27, whose mother’s family is from Honduras, saw firsthand that patients’ inability to speak the same language as their health care provider can create huge barriers. It shaped her approach to patient care, and even led her to take a Spanish-immersion trip to Honduras. “When you’re confronted with medical issues, it can be very scary,” she explains. “I wanted to be able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients.”

That strength of purpose is aligned with other SMDEP alumni. They clear racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic hurdles, and then go on to make a difference in underserved communities. Brockway describes the six weeks at the Columbia University program site as reinforcing her desire to practice in Hispanic communities in her native Florida.

“I don’t want a career that serves only the most privileged people,” she says.

Read more about Chelsea Brockway and her fellow SMDEP alumni.

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