The closing ceremonies of the 2021 Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative Summer Enrichment Programs were held virtually July 30. Sponsored by the Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs (HCOP) at UConn Health, this event marks the culmination of six-week summer enrichment experiences designed to stimulate interest in the health professions for approximately 220 students from the ninth-grade level through college. Program participants were awarded certificates before invited faculty, preceptors, special guests, friends and family members.
Dr. Marja Hurley, associate dean and founding director of the Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs at UConn Health, said she was asked, in 1996, to develop a consortium to provide mentoring and STEM opportunities for first-generation and students underrepresented in medicine and dental medicine to help diversify the health professions.
A number of graduates do come back to practice in Connecticut and in the underserved communities. — Dr. Marja Hurley
Connecticut universities and urban public school partners were identified to develop a pipeline program in response to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Project 3000 x 2000, and the UConn Health School of Medicine was one of only 10 U.S. medical schools selected by the AAMC to receive funding provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in 1996.
The pipeline comprises 14 distinct programs with the newest program, the High School Doctors Academy, added in 2007-2008 with funding from the John and Valerie Rowe Foundation and the Aetna Foundation. The overall effort was subsequently renamed the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative (Aetna HPPI).
Participating students are from diverse backgrounds, typically focused on first-generation achievers and groups underrepresented in the health professions. To reach this point, Hurley said, each had successfully completed one of several challenging and rigorous research and educational programs where, in addition to health care-related studies, they are offered a range of other useful tools to help prepare them for future careers in the health professions.
“Academic year and summer enrichment programs also offer test preparation (PSAT, SAT, MCAT, DAT), medical- and dental-related seminars, mentoring, professional development, interviewing tutelage, tutelage on how to write a personal statement, and much more focused learning,” Hurley said. “Students who have attended these programs go into the medical, dental, pharmacy, nursing, biomedical research and other health professions, and a number of graduates do come back to practice in Connecticut and in the underserved communities.”
Acting UConn President Dr. Andy Agwunobi was a special presenter at the ceremony, as was U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a long-time supporter of health care and educational equity, who congratulated the graduates in a pre-recorded a video message. Agwunobi mentioned the role UConn Health caregivers have played in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and also how this battle revealed health care discrepancies that must be addressed.
“The battle against the Coronavirus also amplified the schism that exists in our country today over access to medical care, the importance of reliable information, the critical role of education, and the need for champions in our community dedicated to ensuring equal access, treatment and outreach,” Agwunobi said.
“Since 1996, the programs we celebrate today have seen more than 700 participants move on to medical and dental school, graduate school or other health professional studies. After college or their post-graduate work, some will stay in Connecticut, conduct research, teach, or eventually set up practices serving underrepresented communities. Many, I hope, will end up attending our Schools of Medicine or Dental Medicine, or pursue residency and fellowships.”