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 NEWS

For immediate use July 23, 1998 -- No. 568

 

Summer program challenges future health professionals

By DEBORAH A. HANSON
North Carolina Health Careers Access Program

CHAPEL HILL -- Emelita Maynor was 13 years old when her older sister died in her arms from an undiagnosed uterine tumor. Emelita was alone in her family's home in the Philippines. Her father and mother, both dressmakers, were away delivering garments to customers in nearby cities.

"I made a vow that from that point forward I would dedicate my life to health care," recalled Maynor, who days later witnessed her sister's autopsy, a procedure customarily open to family members in the Philippines. "My sister's death could have been avoided had proper medical care been available."

Today, Maynor is a sophomore biology major at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke with an eye on becoming a physician assistant. Her quiet demeanor and studious spirit belie the more than 13 years of experience she holds as a licensed practical nurse. Her return to the classroom in 1991 marked the beginning of a greater career pursuit.

"I continue to see a desperate need for medical care, especially in the rural areas of North Carolina," said Maynor, now 37 and the mother of three, who works full-time at UNC-P Student Health Services while pursuing a bachelor's degree in biology. "As a nurse, I am limited to what I can do. As a physician assistant, I will able to do much more in the way of health education and disease prevention."

Maynor and 26 other pre-health students from 25 North Carolina colleges and universities and two out-of-state institutions are spending most of their summer at UNC-CH getting a taste of what lies ahead should they pursue a career in the health sciences.

Sponsored by the N.C. Health Careers Access Program at UNC-CH, the Science Enrichment Preparation (SEP) program helps prepare minority students and educationally and economically disadvantaged students for the rigors of health professions graduate and professional training programs.

The SEP program is tough -- its intent to parallel both the pace of professional school and the volume of information to be absorbed. During eight weeks at UNC-CH, students engage in more than 150 contact hours of intense classroom instruction in physics, organic chemistry, human physiology, quantitative skills and biostatistics.

To help students learn how to absorb the vast quantities of information required by health professions programs and to prepare them for standardized testing, the curriculum includes classes in reading speed and comprehension as well as preparation for admission to various health professions schools and graduate degree programs.

Beyond academics, students receive help honing their interview skills through mock sessions and panel discussions. Field trips to health facilities, such as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park and Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, expose students to a variety of fascinating career options and allow them to discuss their career interests with health care professionals and biomedical scientists.

During a recruitment conference, students talk one-on-one with health professions school representatives from around the United States -- a tremendous advantage for minority and disadvantaged students who might not otherwise have such an opportunity. In addition, community health care providers offer students an up close-and-personal perspective on pertinent issues affecting the health care industry.

"In today's rapidly changing health care environment, students must be knowledgeable about the movement toward managed care and what that means in terms of their career decision," said Charles Collier Jr., assistant director of the SEP program. "The information students receive from professionals who are in the trenches' can help them look beyond professional school to determine if their career aspirations are in sync with industry trends."

Emelita Maynor's goals of improving health care for underserved populations is a common thread that holds the SEP group together.

"I believe there is a strong need to change the health care industry," said Tiffany Thorn, a sophomore biology major at Virginia State University, whose motivation for becoming a general physician resulted from the cancer deaths of two close family members. "It is obvious that those without receive inferior services. My goal is to open a preventive health care group with providers who treat patients regardless of race, color or financial status."

Cedric Harvey, a sophomore chemistry major at N.C. State University, echoed Thorn's sentiment.

"After my formal training I want to open a clinic back home in Elizabeth City," said Harvey, who has his sights set on a career in gastroenterology. "I want to organize health screenings, mostly dealing with colon cancer -- one of the leading causes of death in African-Americans."

Now entering its 20th year, the Science Enrichment Preparation program is open to students with interests in all health professions. Former SEP students are now enrolled in schools of allied health, dentistry, medicine, optometry, pharmacy and public health. Other students are enrolled in graduate health training programs in gerontology, mental health nursing, biological science and toxicology.

Since 1979, more than 56 percent of students have completed their education and training and are practicing in a health care field. Another 19 percent are either enrolled in health professions training programs or are completing undergraduate prerequisites.

"Students will leave the program with a stronger foundation in the sciences," Collier said. "But we hope, too, they have learned the importance of seeking individuals and organizations who will help them best achieve their career goals."

David Ward, a sophomore biology major at Savannah State University, has learned this lesson.

"When I first came to the program, I had this attitude that I could do it alone," said Ward, whose bouts with childhood asthma propelled him in the direction of pediatrics. "Now I realize that to succeed in professional school, you need the guidance and support from peers and you need to be aggressive in finding contacts who can help point you in the right direction. SEP has given me renewed confidence in myself and my ability to gain entry into professional school."

For more information on the SEP Program, contact N.C. Health Careers Access Program, UNC-CH, 301 Pittsboro Street, Suite 351, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8010; telephone (919) 966-2264.

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N.C. Health Careers Access Program contact: Deb Hanson, 919-966-2264

UNC-CH News Services contact: Karen Stinneford, 919-962-8415