UI tries to widen health sciences


Recyclables are separated at the College of Public Health building on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (The Daily Iowan/Joshua Housing)

By Jenna Larson

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The University of Iowa has received a $415,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to prepare underrepresented students entering the health field.

The UI will join 12 schools and host a Summer Health Professions Education Program next summer.

“This is a dream come true for me,” said Denise Martinez, a UI clinical assistant professor of family medicine.

The summer program has been around for more than 20 years in many schools around the country, she said. This will be its first year at the UI.

“We will have 80 underrepresented students come and be with us for six weeks to help prepare them to be successful getting in a health-profession career,” Martinez said.

When Martinez attended undergraduate school at the University of Washington, she attended the summer program, and she said that if she hadn’t attended the program, she wouldn’t have applied to medical school.

“It impacted me greatly,” she said. “It allowed me to find mentors and realize that I could become a doctor.”

The grant was given through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Association of Medical Colleges, and the American Dental Education Association, Martinez said. Receiving the grant was a very competitive process, she said.

“When the program started, it was geared toward people interested going to medical school,” she said. “Now, it’s expanded to people interested in health professions.”

The UI will have four tracks in its program for students interested in medical school, dental school, pharmacy school, or public-health school, she said.

“[The grant] was a nation grant application process,” said Michelle McQuistan, a UI associate professor of dentistry. “It is for one year, but it sounded like there will be a noncompetitive grant application in the future.”

Working with various colleges to put an application together was enjoyable, she said.

“We all believe in the program and want it to succeed,” McQuistan said.

The UI is fortunate to have strong health-profession programs within walking distance of each other, she said. Other universities many not have as many health-profession programs as the UI, providing an advantage for being selected for the grant.

“As the country continues to become more diverse, it is important that this diversity is also shown in the health professions,” McQuistan said.

The UI’s goal is to prepare underrepresented minority students and first-generation, low-income, and rural students, she said.

“UI has five major components of health, and [we] started to put the proposal together,” said Michael Kelly, a UI associate dean of pharmacy. “As we put our proposal together, we said we could do all five professions and bring these students together.”

The foundation did not want five health sciences for the program, so the UI will only use four, he said.

“The idea is to strengthen the individuals’ academic proficiency and their career development,” Kelly said.

The program will also bring in freshmen and sophomores. There will also be instruction in various classes, including statistics and organic chemistry to prepare the students, he said.

“We will bring them in and help them succeed academically,” Kelly said.

The grant allows the students to attend the program free of cost, Kelly said.

“We have hired a full-time staff to help direct the program,” he said.

Other expenses that the grant will provide are travel expenses, room and board, meals, resident assistants, and teaching assistants. The rest of the staff from the selected colleges are donating their time.

“The only thing we are doing is making great effort to increase diversity of our colleges and support these students,” Kelly said.

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