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Innovative USC program guides minority youths to career paths in health-related fields

Graduating high school senior Heidi Holmes always knew she wanted to be a doctor, but she was not sure what kind.

Narrowing down choices seemed almost overwhelming. “I thought about ob/gyn, plastic surgery, everything,” she said.

But after participating in a USC program called Med-COR, Holmes gained valuable insights that helped her decide.

“Med-COR exposed me to the entire medical field and helped me choose” to focus on psychiatry, said Holmes.

Med-COR, a program designed to encourage minority students to pursue health professional careers, continues a tradition of tenacity and innovation that began almost 40 years ago.

Founded by John Davis in 1970, during a dismal time for minority enrollment in universities, the program started with Saturday enrichment classes at four inner-city high schools in Los Angeles. Med-COR, which stands for Medical Counseling Organizing and Recruiting, lived up to its name: it began with just 15 students and grew to 180 participants in its first three years.

Today, funded through a contract granted to the Keck School of Medicine by the L.A. Unified School District, Med-COR has expanded, working with over 1,000 students in 34 high schools and 42 junior high schools, representing a geographical area that stretches from South Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley.

Remarkably diverse, the group is almost 70 percent female, over 60 percent Hispanic and over 20 percent African-American.

“Med-COR is very experienced in recruiting, motivating and tracking high school students to college, medical school and professional careers,” said Davis. The statistics agree: 94 percent of the 2005 Med-COR graduates attended four-year universities and more than 50 percent majored in pre-med or other science-based fields.

DeShawn Taylor, soon-to-be assistant professor/assistant director of the Family Planning Fellowship in the Department of Ob/Gyn at the Keck School, had wanted to be a doctor before she started Med-COR, but saw how it created new goals for the students around her.

“The program exposed students to different medical professions, giving them a whole new range of options within the field.” She also speaks highly of Davis. “He wrote letters for me for scholarships, for admissions, anything I needed. He has continued to be a support to this day.”

Holmes, with the help of Med-COR, secured a full scholarship to Holy Names University in Oakland Hills and plans to study psychobiology. “I’m leaning towards psychiatry, but the biology background will still help if I decide to move towards a different career once I get to med school,” she said.

Even with 36 years of teaching under his belt, Davis has no plans to retire from his beloved Med-COR. “I like the challenge of helping young people discover their potential for success,” he said. “I like their enthusiasm for life, a spark that provides enthusiasm for my own life. Seeing them blossom and become dedicated and competent learners is truly a joy. I believe education is the gateway to a better life…a way out of the trap built to encircle them in a sea of despair and hopelessness.”

Innovative USC program guides minority youths to career paths in health-related fields

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