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College Students Get an Inside Look at Medical School

College Students Get an Inside Look at Medical School

Until this summer, Harlem Murray thought medical students and researchers lived in an ivory tower of academia. But his view changed when he spent six weeks working alongside friendly and generous medical students and teaching physicians as one of 10 Rush Summer Research Scholars.

Murray, a Houston resident, credits his grandmother, a Rush University College of Nursing graduate, for encouraging him to apply. Now a junior in the pre-med program at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, Murray is even more certain that he wants to become a medical student and pursue a career in psychiatry.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Murray says. “I got to see medical school from the inside.”

Attracting more diverse talent to Rush

The Rush Summer Research Scholars Program (RSRSP) was developed to help students from groups that are underrepresented in medicine gain insights into the medical college experience, says Gabriella Cs–Szabo, PhD, assistant dean of diversity and inclusion at Rush Medical College and RSRSP program director. At the same time, the program aims to help the medical college build its own pipeline of talented students from these groups.

For its inaugural Summer 2019 class, Rush received 128 applications for just 10 scholar positions. The students were selected for their sincere interest in medicine, research and community service, as well as their strong drive to succeed, Cs–Szabo says. The class included undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students from colleges in Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and Illinois.

Exploring unique research projects

The program introduces students like Murray to the three main types of research at Rush: translational basic science, clinical and community-based projects. “The students work very closely with a faculty mentor and are part of the team conducting research,” Cs–Szabo says. The scholars are deeply immersed in studies on topics such as how pediatric cancer patients can regain lost immunity to measles, how the gut microbiome contributes to neurological disorders and how to promote better follow-up of transient patients.

As part of the program, Murray worked in the laboratory of physical therapist and researcher Joan A. O’Keefe, PhD, and helped analyze trial data for a treatment of a rare genetic disorder called Niemann–Pick - Type C.

Another summer research scholar, Mariah Tate, helped Mahboobeh Mahdavinia, MD, PhD, in the Division of Allergy and Immunology with her research on circadian rhythm disruptions in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis. In the lab, Tate collected samples and learned to use software for research and statistical analysis. Tate, a second-year post-baccalaureate student in the Medical/Dental Education Preparatory Program at Southern Illinois University, also sat in on a research class for first-year medical students as well as a simulation with nurses and third-year medical students.

Tate, who comes from a southern suburb of Chicago, applied to the Rush Summer Research Scholars Program to gain more exposure to medical research and working in a hospital environment before applying to medical school. “This experience has given me the confidence to transition from an undergraduate student into medical school,” says Tate, who hopes to pursue a career in family medicine or obstetrics/gynecology.

Mentoring for success

As part of the program, each scholar is matched to a student mentor at Rush Medical College. Mentors are selected for their involvement in research and their interest in coaching students from underrepresented groups in medicine. The mentoring is not just about research, but also about how the scholars can be more competitive during the medical college admissions process.

“My peer mentor in the program has really helped me with my medical school application, especially because she is an M1 [first-year medical student] and has recently been through this process,” Tate says.

Working with her mentor also helped Tate understand the student experience of medical school. “I thought it was just about studying,” she says. “But now I see that medical students are able to delve into their other interests, like research and community service.”

Darrius Chambers, a second-year Rush Medical College student and first-generation college student from Racine, Wis., chose to become a mentor because he recognizes that having mentors has been critical to his own success. “I really wanted to give back and connect with other people who may be in similar shoes as mine,” Chambers says.

Beyond helping the scholars feel more comfortable navigating an academic medical center, mentors like Chambers also provide social support for the students, who may be staying in Chicago for the first time. This might mean pointing them to the best restaurants or other events to enjoy in the city, he says.

Susan Mari, a second-year Rush Medical College student, saw mentoring as a way to share her passion for community-based research with her mentee, whose research experience was more focused on basic science. “This is helping prepare him in ways that the classroom and the lab really can’t,” Mari says. For herself, she says the experience of being a mentor has confirmed her decision to pursue a career in medical education.

Preparing students for the next step

As part of the Rush Summer Research Scholars program, students learn how to balance life with college and preparation for medical school. They meet with the admissions team at Rush Medical College for guidance on how they can improve their resumes and personal statements for their medical school applications. The scholars also have opportunities to explore community service projects like working at a back-to-school health fair.

At the end of the six-week program, the scholars prepare an abstract of their research and present the results to their peers and faculty mentors at a formal symposium. “It is heartwarming to see how much they have grown in the program in a short period of time,” Cs–Szabo says.

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