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WesternU receives grant to encourage underrepresented students to enter health professions

by Rodney Tanaka

October 20, 2016

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Western University of Health Sciences is one of 13 institutions nationwide that received a grant to provide a summer enrichment program supporting students who are underrepresented in the health professions.

WesternU received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), organized by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Dental Education Association.

SHPEP is a free, six-week summer enrichment program focused on improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and admissions resources for college students from communities underrepresented in the health professions, including but not limited to individuals who identify as African American/Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latino, and who are from economically disadvantaged communities. SHPEP offers students a number of academic and career experiences, including an introduction to interprofessional education that addresses effective collaboration across health professions.

Funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and matching funds from WesternU cover all costs of student housing, meals, and travel to and from the program site. Rising college sophomores and juniors who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or granted Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status are eligible to apply. Applications for the 2017 summer season will be accepted from Nov. 1, 2016 through March 1, 2017. The program will accept 80 students.

The program was established in 1989 to provide opportunities for college students interested in medicine and dentistry, and has now expanded its focus to include optometry, physical therapy, nursing, physician assistants and other health professions.

This expanded focus builds on expertise developed through WesternU’s Interprofessional Education (IPE) program, which brings together faculty and students from all nine colleges to learn how to work as a cohesive health care team.

One of WesternU’s goal statements is to have a diverse campus, not just at the faculty level but the student level, said College of Allied Health Professions Dean Stephanie Bowlin, EdD, PA, DFAAPA.

“Students who come to WesternU want to be able to have a full experience, with different interprofessional educational experiences,” Bowlin said. “Because we are one of the most comprehensive graduate medical universities in the U.S., we feel our campus is ideal to host the Robert Wood Johnson project.”

SHPEP complements WesternU programs that bring underrepresented students to campus, including the Pomona Health Career Ladder and the Master of Science in Medical Sciences program.

“This program fills the last segment of the health career pipeline WesternU has created to shepherd students from preschool through middle and high school and into college and post-baccalaureate preparation,” said Associate Vice Provost and Professor of Anatomy Elizabeth Rega, PhD. “By connecting the dots in close cooperation with the Pomona Unified School District and local universities, we are addressing a need that has received national attention, but has often eluded practical solutions.”

“It’s in strong alignment with our institution’s trajectory,” said College of Dental Medicine Dean Steven Friedrichsen, DDS. “It builds on what we’ve already done with other programs and our established track record.”

Underrepresented students often have a hard time seeing themselves as health care professionals, Friedrichsen said. SHPEP allows them to stand side by side with other students and start envisioning themselves as health care professionals.

“Our goal is to see students who mirror the face of the nation successfully graduate from all of our programs,” Friedrichsen said. “Our nation is changing demographically, and the health professions need to reflect those changes.”

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