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Marcie Hopkins, University of Utah Health
Leveling the Playing Field to Support Medical Students
As physician shortages continue to leave rural, remote, and indigenous populations without access to quality care, director of education research Candace Chow and physician Juliana Simonetti partner to level the playing field for med students from underserved communities. Their new program, PROMIS2U, empowers these future practitioners by providing them with unprecedented academic support.

he road to becoming a doctor is notoriously rigorous, and even students with access to the best resources, education, and work opportunities often fall short of success. This harsh reality rings especially true for students who come from socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Limited prospects, educational resources and funds, often the results of systemic inequities, make it difficult, sometimes even impossible, for minoritized students to compete with their more privileged peers. As a result, diverse communities are not well-represented among health care providers. This results in these underserved rural, remote, and tribal populations suffering from physician shortages and restricted or inadequate health care.  

This disparity has existed for far too long. Our "Pre-Matriculation Readiness for Ongoing Medical Student Success", the PROMIS2U program, addresses physician shortages in marginalized communities by helping disadvantaged students have access to resources to fulfill their dreams. We strive to level the playing field by providing post-baccalaureate students with equal access to resources and training. Our year-long program—grounded in science, population health, and wellness—helps future physicians from diverse backgrounds transition into medical school. 

Our goal is to encourage and prepare students from these underrepresented and historically marginalized communities to serve the needs of their populations.   

Why it's important that medical schools invest in underrepresented and minority students 

Physicians who are from historically marginalized backgrounds are more likely to develop a desire to go back and practice within their own local communities and we hope the same will be true for PROMIS2U students. In order to truly serve the needs of these varied populations, we need more physicians who share that experience of being part of these cultures. We need physicians who can empathize and connect with their patients in a more meaningful way, because they really understand the cultural complexities—as well as health care needs—their patients face every day.  

Through PROMIS2U, we hope to highlight the distinctive strengths of a diverse student body that is frequently overlooked and unrecognized. Our medical students bring so many unique and important perspectives to the table; to provide equitable health care to all populations, we can’t afford to let these high-need communities fall through the cracks any longer.  

The importance of leveling the playing field 

Many students from socio-economically disadvantaged environments don’t always have the same access to opportunities as their peers. They might miss out on pre-med classes, research prospects, and clinical experiences. Without adequate access or knowledge of these resources, underrepresented students can often experience imposter syndrome and fall behind quicky. And yet, it is these same students who are often best equipped to serve patients like themselves. By leveling the playing field and ensuring these students receive the same educational foundation that most medical students take for granted, they get a fair chance to acclimate and succeed. 

In order to combat those feelings of isolation and helplessness, PROMIS2U strives to build confidence by implementing a well-rounded support system based on community engagement. We will foster a sense of belonging by connecting our participants with other professionals who come from underrepresented backgrounds. The program will host community events that speakers can use as a platform to identify and discuss questions and concerns commonly associated with minoritized populations. Their clinical experience will introduce students to opportunities and challenges seen in rural, historically marginalized, and medically underserved settings, so that they can prepare themselves for the specific needs of these populations.  

Eventually, we hope that our students will grow into future mentors and leaders for the future student prospects who come into the program. As we build this diverse network for our students, we believe that they will find renewed confidence and strength in our community. 

Not all students who enter the medical field are on the same playing field; some have different levels of access and understanding of how to navigate educational opportunities. It’s important to recognize that underserved and marginalized students are potentially starting at a disadvantaged place, and medical schools should strive to assist in bridging access gaps.   

These students bring so much insight to a health care system that is often guided by tunnel vision. If we invest in their future, we can give these rural, minoritized and indigenous populations a voice—and improved health care. By encouraging more diversity in our hospitals and clinics, we can better serve our local communities and bring quality care to those who need it most. 

This article was originally published September 2021.


Candace Chow

Director of Education Research, Office of Curriculum, Co-Director of PROMIS2U, University of Utah Health

Juliana Simonetti

Assistant Professor, Director of Bariatric Medicine Program, Co-Director of PROMIS2U, University of Utah Health

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