A top priority for UConn’s Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine has long been the recruitment and retention of students from diverse groups who are underrepresented in American health care professions. The Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs in the Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine sponsors the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative (Aetna HPPI) summer and academic year programs. This initiative was developed to promote diversity in the health professions and is a formal educational consortium offering a comprehensive program of educational enrichment and support activities for under-represented, disadvantaged and first-generation students applying to medical and dental schools, graduate programs in biomedical sciences, nursing, pharmacy, and allied health programs.
The Aetna HPPI is a continuous pipeline for middle/junior high school, high school, and college-level students, which has been successful in helping participants realize their dreams of becoming health care providers. The programs are therefore instrumental in aiding the development of the future health career workforce in the U.S. One of the Aetna HPPI pipeline programs, the Doctors Academy is geared towards students who meet certain socio-economic guidelines and/or first generation to attend college, and demonstrate a strong motivation and potential to enroll in a four-year college program. The Doctors Academy is composed of the middle school program, Great Explorations, and the high school programs, Jumpstart, and the Junior and Senior Doctor Academies.
From High School:
Elis Diaz, 18, of Hartford hadn’t yet considered a career in health care when a friend suggested that he take part in the Aetna HPPI Doctors Academy summer and academic year programs. Elis was interested in the small stipend earned for completing the program and didn’t realize at the time that the program would change the trajectory of his future.
Through the program, he set a goal to get above a 1200 on the SAT and while working with program mentors his score increased to 1230. “I couldn’t have done it without this program, I grew so much,” says Diaz. “I realized I had to motivate myself and learn to be disciplined.”
This past May, Elis was part of 23 students in the Aetna HPPI Doctors Academy program who graduated high school and will be entering prestigious colleges in the fall including University of Connecticut (UConn), Yale, Tufts, and Northeastern to name a few. Eleven of the students, including Elis, will be enrolling at the UConn Storrs campus in the fall.
The Aetna HPPI Doctors Academy is in addition to their regular academic schedule and provides students with grade appropriate math, science, and English courses as well as standardized test preparation. It offers a six-week, Monday-Friday, Summer Academic Enrichment Program for the selected students and a 30-week, Saturday Academy during the academic school year where students can continue to enhance their academic skills, college preparation, and exposure to careers in the health professions. Classes are held at UConn Health and transportation is provided to Hartford residents.
This program helped Diaz to advance his math skills and gave him the opportunity to take courses in geometry, biology, and English to better prepare for his college education. Diaz felt like he was treated like an individual which motivated him to increase his SAT score.
What inspired Diaz about the academy was the integration of all people. He was able to visibly see the barriers that race can cause and his perceptions were changed.
Seeing others in the health care field who were of different races who loved their careers motivated him. “I want to wake up every day and go to a career I have a passion for and that is what this program showed me I could do,” says Diaz.
Diaz has been busy. Besides the Doctors Academy, he also participated in cross country and track and field at his high school, worked part-time, and he has taken 18 credits at Capital Community College. When he enters UConn in the fall he will be taking 12 credits a semester so that he can also concentrate on joining different activities to broaden his horizon. He will be studying Biomedical Engineering and has an interest in designing prosthetics as well as an interest in surgery. His future is wide open and he is taking advantage of all the opportunities that lie ahead of him.
“The program taught me that my circumstances don’t define me and that by becoming a dedicated student, nothing can prevent me from reaching my goals.”
Tanya Miller always knew she wanted to be in the health care field, however as a first generation college student, she needed guidance. When someone shared information on Health Career Opportunity Programs with her father, she took advantage of the incredible pipeline programs.
Prior to her junior year of high school she started in the Junior Doctors Academy summer program. She completed the High School Student Research Apprentice Program as well as the Senior Doctors Academy before entering UConn.
When she was accepted into UConn as a freshman, Miller was also invited to the Rowe Scholars Program. “Being a member of the Rowe Scholars Program and a member of the e-board was literally a dream come true, says Miller. “I remember as a student in the Aetna HPPI Doctors Academy, we took a trip to UConn Storrs one day to be a ‘Husky for a Day’ with Rowe Scholars as our hosts. Afterwards, we were able to ask them questions about college and hear what advice they have. I remember I was sitting to myself thinking ‘I want to be a Rowe Scholar one day’ after witnessing how determined, kind, and involved on campus they were.”
A small cohort of scholarship recipients are selected each year to hold the title of John and Valerie Rowe Health Professions Scholars at UConn (Rowe Scholars Program or Program). The Program is open by invitation to incoming first years and by application to rising juniors who are Connecticut residents interested in pursuing careers in the health industry. Students who have participated in Health Career Opportunity Programs receive special consideration for the Rowe Scholars Program. John and Valerie Rowe Scholars are also part of the distinguished UConn Honors Program.
The John and Valerie Rowe Endowment provided a total of six million dollars. This funding supported programmatic initiatives including a small stipend and awards for students in the Doctors Academy, Doctors Academy graduating senior students who were accepted into the UConn Rowe Honors Program at Storrs and to the Honors Program to support other students including underrepresented students who were not graduates of the Doctors Academy.
Members of this Program must continue for the duration of the year they enter and must participate in events, meetings, lectures, and field trips. They are also involved in mentoring opportunities and community service as well as other requirements of the program.
Whenever Miller was responsible for Rowe and Health Career Opportunity Programs collaboration events, it felt incredibly full circle in the best way possible. “Being a part of Health Career Opportunity Programs and then Rowe has shown me the power of mentorship, which is why I hope to continue being a mentor throughout my life and be there to encourage the next generation of healthcare providers.”
Miller graduated from UConn this past spring with a Bachelor of Science degree and is considering pursuing a Master’s degree in nursing. In the meantime, she has taken the opportunity to participate in a fellowship year in the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network at UConn. Miller was part of the inaugural BOLD Cohort that helped establish BOLD on the UConn Campus.
The BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is a pioneering program cultivating courageous leadership in young women during the college years and beyond. BOLD focuses on facilitating opportunities for women’s career development and networking through scholarship funding, programming, and post-graduation fellowships. Ultimately, the program will empower young college women to become leaders in their life and careers after college.
Miller thanks all the leaders of Health Career Opportunity Programs who always make time to check in and help with her goals. “Dr. Stewart was there no matter where I was in the program to make time to guide me and it was really special and important to know you always had someone in your corner,” says Miller.
Dr. Hurley was her inspiration for a documentary on female physicians called #ILookLikeADoctor which she features the stories of six female physicians with unique experiences and from diverse backgrounds. “Dr. Hurley is a great role model and an important part of UConn,” says Miller.
To Pharmacy School:
Julise Marsh, of Bloomfield, was part of the Doctors Academy in high school. She knew she wanted to go into the health care field but like Miller didn’t know what avenue she wanted to take. As part of the Health Career Opportunity Programs she was exposed to many different choices by learning through field trips and speakers about the various areas of medicine. Through those experiences she found that Pharmacy was appealing to her.
Also part of the Rowe Scholars Program at UConn, which helps students traditionally underrepresented in the health care field, Marsh found the monthly dinners where various speakers in health care came to speak to the students of particular interest.
Beyond her honors study in the program, she participated in outreach opportunities with the Mission of Mercy, Grow CT- a sustainable farming community as well as mentoring other students in the program.
Upon finishing her undergraduate degree at UConn, she continued on to the UConn School of Pharmacy where she earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree this past May
Marsh studied abroad in China where she learned about Chinese medicine as well as traditional medicine. “It was a great experience to see how traditional and naturalized formulas can enhance western medicine,” says Marsh.
African Americans, especially women are typically underrepresented in Pharmacy. “I never saw a Black pharmacist until my second year in the Pharmacy program,” says Marsh.
Marsh’s goal is to increase enrollment in the School of Pharmacy for underrepresented populations. She is working with a group to help raise awareness about pharmacy as a career path for underrepresented populations through recruitment in cultural centers and reaching out to high school and college students who may not be aware this is an option for them.
Marsh is currently doing her Pharmacy Residency at Holyoke Health.
“The Program provided me with experiences and opportunities I would have never had,” says Marsh.
“The Aetna HPPI programs have proven to be top-notch because many of the program participants have successfully completed their undergraduate degrees and have actualized their goals of entering medical, dental, and graduate school,” says Dr. Marja Hurley, Founding Director, Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative UConn Health. “We continue to develop new programs and fine-tune the existing ones to expose students to the various fields in the biomedical sciences which will ultimately increase the diverse pool of students pursuing careers in the health professions.”
Visit UConn School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine Health Career Opportunity Programs for more information on the many programs offered.