A Prescription: Patients need more physicians who look like them
The underrepresentation of minority students in medical school results not only in fewer physicians from these groups, but in documented disparities in health care and life expectancy for patients from those ethnic backgrounds.
Lorena Ruedas, a School of Education CANDEL EdD student, is tackling this issue from two perspectives: researcher and mentor. Now in the last year of her degree program, she’s finishing her dissertation on the minority pre-med preparation experience. And as the Postbaccalaureate Program Coordinator for the UC Davis School of Medicine, Ruedas works closely with a cohort of 20 postbaccaulaureate pre-med students who are members of groups underrepresented in medicine.
“I have a dream job,” Ruedas said. “I began my position just a few months after I entered the CANDEL program in the fall of 2012. I was learning about community leadership and diversity in education and policy in my classes, and at the same time living it in my career as an advocate for pre-med students.”
Ruedas’ students have met all the requirements for medical school, but their grade point averages aren’t competitive. The disparities in the quality of their high schools made them less prepared for rigorous college science classes; lower incomes meant that they worked to support themselves financially while carrying heavy course loads. The program helps them become better medical school candidates while educating them about health care disparities.
“They begin to realize that they’re just as strong as more privileged candidates for medical school,” Ruedas said. “When they enter our program and can focus solely on academics, they thrive. It’s a testament to the fact that students with low GPAs have the ability to succeed in the right environment.”
Ruedas leads a weekly seminar on health care disparities, which she models after the CANDEL approach to teaching. Guest speakers have included a legal aid activist for marginalized agricultural communities and a cancer patient whose physical disabilities have made her a lifelong patient. Students discuss concepts such as imposter syndrome and stereotype threat, as well as working on professional development and interview skills.
The granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, Ruedas identifies with her students’ struggles—and with their need for a mentor. “I went to similar schools,” she said. “I know how they feel. I’m fortunate that Mikael Villalobos,a CANDEL alumnus, has been my mentor since I was a middle school student and he was an outreach director for EAOP. He guided me in preparation for college, and throughout college, and he now mentors me in my career. Our relationship has been instrumental in my career growth, and I’m glad to play that role for my students as well.”