Cierra Lewis, a second-year Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) student at PCOM, knew she wanted to be a doctor at the age of eight. The problem was, she didn’t know how to get there. Growing up in Upper Darby, Pa., Ms. Lewis said her family never had much money, so throughout high school and college, her free time was spent working to help pay the bills. She didn’t have a lot of time to plan out her path to becoming a physician, nor did she have anyone whom she could ask for guidance.
“I believe [my counselors and advisors] wanted to help, but I also think there’s a perception that you already have a basis of knowledge when you want to become a doctor,” she says. “But that’s not necessarily true, especially when you don’t have those types in your family to turn to. And I had none.”
Although she was premed during her time at Ursinus College and she received her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, Ms. Lewis says she forged a very different path to medical school: she worked for Teach for America for several years (through which she was able to earn her master’s in education from Chestnut Hill College and taught high school science. She then enrolled in PCOM’s Master's in Biomedical Sciences program, because she didn’t have the science grade point average needed to enroll in medical school. With all of her other commitments—holding down several jobs, and helping her family—Ms. Lewis said she never learned how to study effectively, until she came to PCOM.
“Between teaching and the bio-med program, it took me five years to get where I am now, and I’m still not finished,” says Ms. Lewis. “Rather than have other girls go through what I did, I thought there must be a better way for them to reach their goals.”
To that end, in the summer of 2015 Ms. Lewis founded the nonprofit organization Medicine for Education, run under the auspices of the Office of Diversity and Community Relations, for high-school girls from underserved communities to not only learn how to get into medical school, but to learn the life skills needed to succeed once they get there.
The program launched with a Summer Academy, run through the PCOM DO Council, to bring female high-school students to campus to learn about medicine from first-year DO students and practice clinical skills in the Saltzman Clinical Learning and Assessment Center. A total of six students participated. Ms. Lewis says Denah Appelt, PhD, professor, neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, helped her identify several local high schools that could be in need of supplementing their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. Right now, the program includes students from Philadelphia High School for Girls, but Ms. Lewis hopes to expand recruitment to other Philadelphia area high schools.
At the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, each high school student was paired with two to three DO students who are acting as their mentors. Members of the mentor-mentee groups regularly communicate with each other about various topics, not just related to medical school. In 2016, Ms. Lewis plans to bring back another cohort of young women.
“My goal is for this to be a five-year program starting in the sophomore year of high school and ending in the sophomore year of college,” says Ms. Lewis. “Often these types of programs are either only offered for those in high school or for those in college, so we wanted to take advantage of that transition and make sure it goes smoothly for the students.” She adds that each year will focus on a different subject area, with the fifth year focusing on MCAT preparation.
“What if girls with an interest in medicine—especially those from underserved areas—could learn how to navigate that system from those who had already been through it, before having to take a five-year hiatus like I did?” asks Ms. Lewis. “That’s why I started Medicine for Education.”
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, mental health counseling, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations in inner city and rural locations. For more information, visit pcom.edu.
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