Meet the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program

May 23, 2012, 9:36 PM

This is the first in a series of blog posts introducing programs that are part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Portfolio. Funded by RWJF, the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) offers intensive and personalized medical and dental school preparation to freshman and sophomore college students from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. The goal is to help them overcome barriers to medical or dental school.

file Carmen Young

Meet 26-year-old Carmen Young, a May 2012 graduate of the University of Louisville, School of Medicine who begins her obstetrics and gynecology residency at St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis this summer. Her 8th grade commitment—from dream to destination—has been realized with a boost from the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP). Carmen pledges to build a practice that improves outcomes for Black mothers and their babies.

file Adrienne Perry

Meet Adrienne Perry, 23, whose eyes were opened to the vast oral health problems faced by adults and children during a trip to Guatemala. That trip, coupled with six weeks of intensive classes through SMDEP, awakened the third-year Howard University School of Dentistry student to similar oral health gaps faced by people in urban communities surrounding her campus in Washington, D.C. When she gets her degree, this Conyers, Georgia native plans to address the oral health crisis among underserved communities both here and abroad. Today, just 12 percent of the nation’s dentists are from minority populations.

file Drew Gehring

And meet Drew Gehring, 24, from rural Garrison, North Dakota. He also participated in SMDEP and was inspired to dive into research probing the causes of colon cancer, hoping to contribute to curing the disease.

SMDEP gave these and other students from economically disadvantaged or medically underserved communities a jumpstart to open educational opportunities and clear career paths to medicine or dentistry. They are among the more than 20,000 alumni of the program.

The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program is a free (full tuition, housing, and meals) six-week summer academic enrichment program that offers freshman and sophomore college students intensive and personalized medical and dental school preparation. The program helps college students from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in medical or dental school. It is a national program funded by RWJF with direction and technical assistance provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Dental Education Association.

SMDEP operates at 12 university sites:

Case Western Reserve University

Columbia University

Duke University

Howard University

University of California-Los Angeles

UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical and New Jersey Dental

University of Louisville

University of Nebraska

University of Virginia

University of Washington

University of Texas-Houston

Yale University

Since 1988, SMDEP has successfully prepared students from disadvantaged backgrounds, rural communities and medically underserved populations for careers in medicine and dentistry. The program builds students’ skills in math and science and fortifies them with mentoring and life-skills, so they can succeed in fields in which minorities are sorely underrepresented.

Diversity is integral to RWJF initiatives and a core value that SMDEP embodies. “Diverse perspectives reflected in our dental and medical professions are necessary for a better patient experience,” explains Norma Poll-Hunter, PhD, co-deputy director for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “SMDEP is about bringing talent that’s not traditionally represented in our medical and dental school applicant pools. This could mean the White male from a rural community or the Native American student who needs pre-health advising to understand the medical school application process.”

“We believe that SMDEP has had some influence to the increased number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering dental school, which is exciting,” says W. David Brunson, DDS, senior director for Access Diversity and Inclusion Portfolio of the American Dental Education Association Policy Center.

Young is but one example. She is among eight Louisville medical and dental school graduates this year whose paths were paved with support from SMDEP. The ability to shadow other health professionals and build a bridge to a powerful network of mentors and peers gave her and her SMDEP classmates insight into careers and realistic expectations. “You have the ability to succeed because people are there to assist you. You don’t have to do it by yourself,” Young said.

SMDEP recruits year-round and accepts applications November 1 to March 1 through its website, Learn about the SMDEP impact by watching these videos.

Read more about Carmen Young and the SMDEP program here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.