Five College of Medicine students are among 17 recognized nationally for their efforts to increase the diversity in medicine.

Yamilet Gonzalez, Etta Conteh, Muneeza Rashid, Ana Carrazana, Hannah Wilson and Anela Carrazana were named 2022 Gold Student Summer Fellows for leading the Medical Enrichment for Diverse Students (M.E.D.S.) project that provides mentorship and clinical exposure to Orlando high school students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in the medicine.

Awarded by The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the summer fellowships provide grant support for student research or service projects that magnify humanism in healthcare and help address health inequities. The grant award includes a stipend for a single project of up to $4,000 for a 10-week period. Other awardees came from medical schools across the country, including University of Southern California, University of Iowa and Virginia Tech.

Partnering with ELEVATE Orlando, a nonprofit dedicated to uplifting urban youth, the College of Medicine students hosted six events earlier this year for about 30 students from Evans, Oakridge and Jones high schools. Two of the events were held at the medical school, where students participated in clinical skills workshops, patient simulations and tours.

The program also includes one-on-one mentoring sessions, therapy services, community service projects and health disparities workshops. Over the long term, M.E.D.S. hopes to improve the health of underserved communities by empowering and training more minority providers.

Data shows a staggering gap in diversity among medical school students in the Central Florida region. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that only 7.1% and 6.2% of medical students identify as Black or Hispanic/Latinx, respectively, compared with 24.5% Black and 32.6% Hispanic/Latinx residents in the region overall. This lack of diversity among physicians has been correlated with poor healthcare outcomes among patients of color.

“It was an honor to receive this fellowship because it validated the hard work our team dedicated last year to get this program off the ground,” says Gonzalez, a rising third-year M.D. candidate and one of the project founders. “We received a lot of support from local vendors (Publix and Tijuana Flats) who helped us cover our costs, but this fellowship will really allow us to invest in the program to make it a sustainable program at the College of Medicine.”

Students say they organized the program as a way to recognize the role that mentorship played in their own lives.

“Mentorship has had a huge influence on my pathway to medical school, especially as a woman of color’” says Wilson, a rising second-year student and one of the project leaders, “and being able to pay it forward to those who come after me has been very rewarding. All the challenges we have faced as a new program have made it so worth it each time we interact with our students and hear how M.E.D.S. continues to motivate them to pursue their dreams within health care.”

The students hope the recognition and support from Gold’s Foundation will assist in expanding the program to reach more students.

“It’s so encouraging and exciting to have MEDS recognized on a national level!” Conteh says. “I’m hopeful that with this fellowship, we can expand the programming of MEDS to reach more students and hopefully encourage more diversity in the field of medicine. I’m so grateful for the success MEDS has seen in just one year of its creation and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

Tracy MacIntosh, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, who collaborated with the students, said projects like MEDS will go a long way in improving representation in medicine.

“This innovative program is addressing key opportunities to engage and mentor students from historically marginalized groups towards a career in healthcare,” she says. “I hope that many of these students will be inspired and supported by this program in ways that will lead a greater number of them to pursue their undergraduate degrees, particularly here at UCF.”