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Mentorship Program Prepares Less Advantaged Students for Med School

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The need for more doctors continues to grow, especially those who can meet the varying needs of the city's diverse communities. Now, one program is struggling to secure the funding it needs to train promising physicians. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Raised in Brooklyn by two city school teachers, Nicole Pacheco's dream of becoming a doctor only grew as she attended Brooklyn Tech High School and Hunter College.

It was the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Summer Undergraduate Mentorship Program called SUMP that helped put it all within her reach, though.

"It actually made it so much more real to me," Pacheco says.

Every year the program accepts 12 to 14 promising students from less advantaged backgrounds—an effort to encourage more Black and Latino students to become doctors.

"So many of the students come with the idea that they would like to do it but they'll never make it. So a lot of their experience here and what we can contribute is that, in fact, they have what it takes," says Albert Einstein College of Medicine Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Dr. Hal Strelnich.

They do research projects, are exposed to some of what they'll learn in medical school, and are assigned a physician to follow.

"We discuss MRI results. I teach them anatomy. I teach them how to examine the knee or the shoulder," says Montefiore Medical Center Attending Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Michael Hossack.

"It was the first time I got to see surgeries. I loved it. I got to see ACL repairs, meniscus repairs. It was wonderful," Pacheco says.

Pacheco says she didn't realize how much she needed the opportunity to work side by side with professionals like Hossack.

"It was the first time that I got the chance to work with other black and Hispanic doctors. And it wasn't like it was a problem, until I realized that I hadn't seen that before," Pacheco.

SUMP students get a stipend that helps with food and transportation—money that gave Pacheco the freedom to accept the opportunity.

"I thought about getting a job that summer instead of going to SUMP, but then if I had gotten a job, I wouldn't have had the same amount of experience that I needed to get into med school," Pacheco says.

However, government funding for these programs is being cut just as the need for more doctors drastically increases.

"The sequester hurt us badly. Our federal grants have run out," Strelnich says.

They still have some support to keep the program running for the time being.

Strelnick continues to lobby Washington, arguing that pipeline programs training a more diverse pool of physicians are crucial.

"Often times patients of color feel more comfortable seeing somebody who looks like them," Hossack says.

With the help of SUMP, Pacheco got into Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine.

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