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UTEP a key player in helping meet the hispanic physician shortage

Seventeen mentors shared their insight with pre-med students
Seventeen mentors shared their insight with pre-med students
Courtesy UTEP

In the June 7 issue of Newsweek, the article “Where are All the Latino Doctors?” points out that while Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the United States, “the number of physicians coming out of the community has failed to keep pace.”

This problem is being addressed at The University of Texas at El Paso, where the Medical Professions Institute is helping talented students acquire the skills to compete successfully for admission into medical school.

“After a sound medical education, the most important skill a doctor has is the ability to communicate effectively with a patient,” said MPI director Mary Wells. “The overwhelming majority of our pre-med students are Hispanic, so we have a pool of future physicians who are bilingual and culturally sensitive. We just need to give them a little support to help them realize their goals.”

That support comes in many forms, including opportunities for summer research and internship programs. The Institute also offers an intensive course to help prepare students to take the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, required by all U.S. medical schools in the United States.

And then there’s the speed mentoring event launched by the program earlier this year.

Employing the strategies of speed dating, each pre-med student has four minutes to meet with a physician and ask questions. Once the buzzer sounds, it’s off to the next one.

“This is an event that requires students to marshal their thoughts and hone their communication skills,” Wells explained. “We wanted to create a fun vehicle that would increase participation by area physicians.”

And like speed dating, some pre-med students do find their perfect match: a physician who will mentor them during their UTEP career.

More than 40 area physicians and students participated in the MPI’s speed mentoring event held at the Larry K. Durham Center in February. Here, pre-med students Reina Hernandez and Sharon Gonzalez talk with David Palafox, MD, medical director for El Paso First Health Plans. UTEP is a partnership school for early medical acceptance programs at Boston University and at all Texas public medical schools.

Erica Alvarez, who graduated from UTEP with an honors degree in microbiology, has just completed her first year as a medical student at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso.

An active member of the MPI during her undergraduate career, Alvarez was unable to participate in an early medical school acceptance program. She does, however, credit the organization with giving her the skills to beat out some heavy competition.

“MPI sponsored weekly lectures with physicians and researcher, which I found very motivating, and they also sponsor tours of public medical schools in Texas,” Alvarez said. “This gave all of us an opportunity to meet the admissions counselors and to see which schools might be a better fit than others.

“The admission process is incredibly competitive. I was one of 3,000 students who applied to Texas Tech for admission into the class of 2014. Of that number, 700 qualified for a personal interview, and only 40 students were accepted.”

Alvarez also was accepted by two other Texas medical schools but chose Texas Tech because it offered her a full four-year scholarship.

“I’m proud to be a Miner because I know that I received an outstanding education,” Alvarez said. “I don’t know if I’d be in medical school today if I’d gone to another university.”


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