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Program at USC bolsters success for minorities in medicine

Kevin Marmolejo grew up right in the center of California, in the town of Madera, where farmlands are fertile and vineyards yield bushels of table grapes.

But at age 23, Marmolejo finds himself far from the valley. He is in his first year of medical school at USC.

Though his academic determination brought him to campus, he is quick to point out that the help he got along the way reinforced his dream of becoming a physician–and perhaps someday returning to his home town to serve as a doctor.

Marmolejo participated in outreach programs administered by the USC Office of Minority Affairs, programs that educate and support young people interested in health-related careers. One of the office’s offerings is the Macy Minorities In Medicine Program.

The main benefit of Macy is to see role models, especially in minority communities, says Marmolejo, who taught high school students in the program last summer. Seeing minority professionals who are achieving success is just invaluable.

In 1994, the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation created the program with a five-year grant covering six medical schools, each receiving about $50,000 a year. USC was the sole west coast school, kicking off its first summer program in 1995.

The idea was to increase access to careers in medical sciences for African-American, Latino and Native American students, says Althea Alexander, USC assistant dean of minority student affairs at the Keck School of Medicine.

Each summer, USC educators pick out 50 bright and motivated high school sophomores from California, Nevada and beyond and bring them to the University Park Campus. The students live in Trojan Hall–“the academic dorm,” notes Alexander–and take science, math and related courses on contemporary issues.

They meet professors and physicians from the Keck School of Medicine and other USC schools, and get a better idea of what health professions are all about. Parents get involved, too, with the Macy Program leaders keeping them abreast of events.

The Macy Program monitors interested students throughout high school and college. Students continue with periodic career counseling and regular meetings with a mentor. Many end up in one of USC’s other programs, such as the popular and long-running Health Professional Preparation program, or HePP.

Immediately after high school, Marmolejo enrolled in HePP. During the summer he met older students already in medical school at USC. The program introduced him to chemistry and biology courses, preparing him for what was to come in his undergraduate education at Loyola Marymount University.

In the first exam of my actual college semester, I already knew the information, he notes. It gave me a big jump and helped to keep me motivated.

Because the Macy Minorities In Medicine Program was funded only for five years, Alexander does not know if it will keep going as it currently stands. We’re hoping to continue the program, she says.

Such efforts are important because when educators expose students from minority communities to the possibilities in medicine, those students may end up later helping their communities with their expertise and care, Alexander says. The real question is, who will serve the underserved

Through his experiences in HePP, and in teaching in the Macy Program, Marmolejo knew medicine was right for him.

Now he is not only a member of the first generation of his family to attend college, but he is the first in his family to enter medical school. He hopes to get his medical degree and return to his roots in the Madera and Fresno areas, which have a large Latino population.

I’d love to go back, he says. There’s a big need for doctors there.

For more information about the Macy Minorities In Medicine Program, call (323) 442-1050.

Program at USC bolsters success for minorities in medicine

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