Despite being the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, Hispanics only account for about 4 percent of practicing physicians, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges. This illustrates a clear need for more doctors of Hispanic origin, as research shows that minority patients are far more likely to receive care from physicians of similar ethnic background.
To address the dearth of Hispanic health practitioners, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has been working with two of the city’s largest Hispanic-serving educational institutions—ASPIRA, Inc. of Pennsylvania Schools, and Esperanza, Inc.—to help raise interest in science, technology, engineering, and math—plus medicine (STEM+M) at the high school and undergraduate level and encourage Hispanic students to pursue health careers.
As part of these partnerships, PCOM has announced the launch of the PCOM Opportunities Academy, an intensive, five-week pilot program beginning July 12, designed to provide a pipeline that routes motivated students with an interest in STEM+M toward four-year degree programs and into training for the health professions.
Each week will focus on a different area of study, led by PCOM students, alumni and faculty. In addition, students in the Academy will have the chance to broaden their horizons though field trips to institutions such as the Franklin Institute and the Mütter Museum; will be provided with SAT and ACT preparatory materials; and will hear from healthcare leaders from various specialties and ethnic backgrounds. PCOM staff will also discuss the medical school admissions process and provide career advice.
“Because there is such a lack of practicing physicians and providers who are Hispanic, many students who might have an interest in the STEM+M areas simply don’t have any exposure to those areas, or feel those careers are not an option,” said Lisa McBride, PhD, chief diversity officer at PCOM. “We want to inundate these students with science in every aspect of their lives—from the academic, to the social, to the cultural—to show them that a career in the health professions can be an attainable goal.”
Throughout the year, PCOM faculty will collaborate with faculty from ASPIRA Schools and Esperanza on professional and curriculum development and the establishment of practicum and research opportunities. Currently, students from ASPIRA Schools can participate in the College’s affiliations with national programs such as the Health Professions Recruitment Exposure Program and the Perry Initiative, and students from Esperanza College’s Science and Medical Assisting programs are provided access to PCOM’s laboratories and simulated clinical environments. ASPIRA Schools also serve as clinical practicum sites for PCOM’s School Psychology graduate programs.
PCOM and its partners are keeping careful watch on the new Academy’s outcomes. They will track expected measures such as students’ performance in the STEM+M skill-building activities but are also interested in changes in students’ career goals and confidence levels. A program evaluation of the PCOM Opportunities Academy will focus as well on how the Academy influences the partner institutions’ curricula and teaching methods.
"The educational model and principles in-place at ASPIRA Schools are based on the idea that academic improvement is driven by rigorous, adaptive learning experiences which challenge students over long periods of time," said Andrea Gonzalez-Kirwin, Superintendent of ASPIRA of PA Schools. "This cradle-to-career approach to teaching and learning can be strongly felt in the program PCOM has outlined to develop passion for STEM+M education and careers over the course of a student's high school tenure. This is a great step for STEM+M education in our communities and for the Philadelphia STEM+M industries they'll eventually be part of."
“At Esperanza, we are committed to programming that ignites curiosity that leads to careers in STEM,” said Rev. Luis Cortés, president of Esperanza. “This partnership is an important addition to that work and we are very encouraged by PCOM’s dedication and commitment to this effort.”
“Our commitment to STEM+M is reflected in part in the programs we offer, which includes associates of science degrees in Natural Sciences and Math as well as associates of applied science in Medical Assisting, and as part of our efforts we have fostered partnerships that provide students with enhanced experiences in the STEM+M fields,” added Nilsa Graciani, PhD, director of science, math and medical assisting at Esperanza College. “The partnership with PCOM strengthens our position as an attractive option for students interested in this area. Our students give back to the community by choosing to work in the underserved populations in Philadelphia.”
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained more than 15,000 highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach, treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers the doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of pharmacy and doctor of psychology degrees and graduate programs in mental health counseling, school psychology, physician assistant studies, forensic medicine, organizational development and leadership, and biomedical sciences. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, education and service to the community and, through PCOM’s Healthcare Centers, provide care to the medically underserved populations in inner city and rural locations.
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ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania Schools are community-based and serve the Hunting Park and North Philadelphia neighborhoods where our organization began. It is our mission to empower students through advocacy, education and leadership development. ASPIRA of PA Schools aim to produce youth who, upon graduation, identify as bi-cultural and socially conscious individuals dedicated to service. We concentrate student efforts within a comprehensive and supportive educational setting where rigorous teaching and learning is the foundation of high expectations for all.
The mission of Esperanza College, a Christian college program dedicated to the service of the Hispanic and local communities, is to enhance the knowledge, skills, and outlook of young people and adults so that they can live even more thoughtful, positive, productive, and purposeful lives. We achieve our mission through the integration of faith, reason, and justice and acknowledge the importance of forming this integration within the academic program, in its instruction, and in the learning of our students, in order to: 1) develop a Christian worldview that informs intellect, attitude, and behavior; 2) sharpen skills of critical thinking, reflection, and analysis, as well as linguistic and communication skills; 3) appreciate the sources, values and contributions of Latino and surrounding cultures to our school that lead to the enhancement of the spiritual, social, and economic well-being of the individual, the family, and the community.