Fueling the pipeline

How this high school summer program aims to tackle the physician shortage

A new JAOA study shows how a summer educational program can encourage students from medically underserved areas to pursue medicine.


In just one week, high school students participating in a summer enrichment program demonstrated a 34 percent increase in their understanding of how to prepare for medical school and a 38 percent increase on average in their biomedical knowledge, according to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

The week-long Summer Enrichment Experience (SEE) was held at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine-Carolinas (VCOM-Carolinas) in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with 45 high school students participating from three medically underserved counties in the surrounding area. SEE is open to all rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors with a minimum cumulative 3.0 grade point average.

The program was designed to address the physician shortage in medically underserved areas by increasing the likelihood of students residing within those communities, including under-represented minorities, becoming physicians and returning to work in or near their hometowns.

“We have a problem finding doctors who will work in medically underserved areas,” says Joel Atance, PhD, lead author of the study and director of the SEE program. “The best way to fix this is by recruiting doctors from those communities because we know they are most likely to return home when they’re ready to practice.”

Participants were surveyed before and after the program to assess their biomedical knowledge and their understanding of medical school and careers in medicine. The survey results indicated:

  1. an 89% increase in understanding of what students do day-to-day in medical school;
  2. a 41% increase in understanding of what physicians do day-to-day on their job;
  3. a 19% increase in a positive attitude toward anatomy and physiology; and
  4. a 38% higher score on the biomedical knowledge quiz.

Critical need for diversity

According to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the number of black males in medical school in 2014 was 515—27 fewer than in 1978, when the number of black male students enrolled in medical school peaked.

“Diversity is crucial to the medical workforce. It promotes cultural competency, which is essential to quality of care,” says Dr. Atance. “It also creates representation of minorities as role models for future potential physicians, which is essential to perpetuating and increasing diversity. We hope our program can help kick-start that virtuous cycle.”

More stories about diversity in medicine:

Is there a doctor in the house? Increased diversity measures are promoting more opportunities for minorities

Building dreams: New COM reflects diversity of surrounding community

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