Getting a Push to Dental School from the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program

    • March 25, 2011

The Problem. Talented college students from minority and disadvantaged groups with potential for medical or dental school often do not have role models or mentors to guide them through the preadmission process. They also often need intensive academic enrichment to help them compete successfully for medical and dental school admission.

Jourdan's background. Myriam Jourdan's parents, who are originally from Haiti, are psychiatrists in South Florida, where they relocated from New York in 1992. It would have been natural for Jourdan to pursue medicine as well. There was just one problem. "Dentistry was more appealing to me," recalls Jourdan. "I really enjoy creating art and drawing, and I needed therefore to find a career that incorporated such skill as well. "My parents always instilled in me that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. They encouraged me to choose a field that I like, stay disciplined and give it my best."

By the time she was barely a teen, Jourdan had come to realize that when she went to the dentist, she was fascinated by the way dentists worked with their hands, manipulating materials and equipment and improving the appearance of patients through the use of carefully crafted casts, impressions, wires and other materials. Jourdan grew to think of dentists as artists, too. "I admired their work and it struck a chord within me," she says. "Dentistry was perfect for me. By the age of 13, I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life."

Moving toward becoming a dentist. Jourdan went to Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. (the Fort Lauderdale area), to study biology in order to prepare for a career in dental medicine and joined the university's pre-dental society. When she was a sophomore, the society's president sent Jourdan information about a summer program for minority students called the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), an intensive Robert Wood Johnson Foundation summer program designed to provide academic enrichment for undergraduate pre-medical and pre-dental students from historically underrepresented groups and from disadvantaged backgrounds. Jourdan applied and was accepted into the six-week SMDEP at Columbia University in the summer of 2007. See Program Results Report for more information about the SMDEP program.

The program kicks in. During her first few days in New York, Jourdan was quickly enamored of the city's diverse cultural opportunities, restaurants and nightlife opportunities. But then SMDEP opened her eyes to how challenging the road to her dream would be as she met others who also were just as academically successful as she was. "I just knew it was going to happen for me—that I would apply to dental school and become a dentist. Quickly I realized that I had a lot in common with my peers at SMDEP. Most of us were majoring in biology, were members of the pre-dental society at our individual colleges and similarly maintained a good grade point average. However, the SMDEP program helped me discover how to be a more competitive and unique candidate in my quest for a career in dentistry."

Her program mentor, who was from Florida as well, helped her greatly. "He guided me honestly. When I just started the SMDEP program, I did not stand out. But he was honest. My mentor told me, 'You have the drive but you have to show more motivation and go after it.' The program was challenging with tough courses, but it was an eye-opener of how strenuous dental school would be. I credit the SMDEP program with not only consolidating my desire to pursue dentistry but also serving as the critical springboard I needed to push myself academically. So when I got back to Nova Southeastern University, I knew I had to step it up."

Back at college, Jourdan immediately became more involved in the pre-dental club. She sought out leadership positions, was elected president of the club her senior year and developed a program for pre-dental students to shadow dental students and faculty in Nova's dental clinic. After graduating in 2009, she was accepted into the University of Florida's College of Dentistry and plans to graduate in May 2013.

Because she grew up with parents who are physicians, Jourdan acknowledges that she had a slight advantage in the pursuit of a career in dentistry. However, she credits SMDEP with giving her both the drive and the insight to make her dream a reality.

"SMDEP gave me the great opportunity of shadowing dentists at one of the best hospitals in New York," she says. "I learned about patient procedures, malpractice insurance, and other medical issues. Every Friday, we went on rotations with dentists as well as dental students. This exposure definitely broadened my view of medicine. All in all, the SMDEP was a wonderful experience for which I remain very grateful."

RWJF Perspective. The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a six-week, intensive academic enrichment summer program. It is designed to help qualified undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds and from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine and dentistry compete successfully for medical and dental school admission. Scholars receive the tools and course work necessary to be more successful in their journey to medical and dental school through instruction in the basic sciences and math, as well as career development and financial planning assistance and limited clinical exposure.

RWJF launched the program in 1987 under the name Minority Medical Education Program, which focused on helping pre-med students only and limited eligibility to African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans. In 2003, RWJF expanded eligibility to include pre-med students representing a wide range of economic, cultural, racial and ethnic diversity and renamed the program the Summer Medical Education Program. In 2005, RWJF expanded the program to students interested in the dental profession and gave the program its current title to reflect the change.

Since 1987, more than 19,000 students have participated in the SMDEP program, which is now offered at 12 sites around the country, says Andrea Daitz, MA, RWJF program associate and lead program officer for the SMDEP program. "This program represents the youngest group of people that we support within our Human Capital portfolio of grantmaking," Daitz says. "We typically invest in individuals and support them during their careers, but SMDEP reaches participants much sooner, and that makes it very special. I often refer to it as 'academic boot camp,' but it exposes students to much more than the academic rigors of health care careers. This program exposes students to the possibilities, and it gives them the tools they need to succeed."