While many of their peers were hitting the beach this summer, Chaminade students Christian Crisolongo and Donna Cottrell were getting intensive instruction and career coaching as part of a rigorous UCLA program designed to help underrepresented students pursue careers in medicine.
The two were among just 80 students from across the country to be selected for UCLA’s 2019 Summer Health Professions Education Program. In recent interviews, both said the experience not only helped them grow as learners but allowed them to see themselves as future doctors.
“My biggest takeaway is that I can do it. Before coming to this program, I had a little doubt,” said Cottrell, ‘22, a biology major who wants to become a pediatrician. “After coming out of this program it left me with a lot of hope and motivation — and inspired me to do more.”
Crisolongo, ’21, added that he realized at the enrichment program that “I’m not alone.”
“It’s just awesome to see that it’s not just me that has these struggles,” he said.
The rigorous summer program, funded with grants, offers participants a host of experiential learning opportunities. Cottrell and Crisolongo said during their very full days of learning — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — they were able to get a taste of different specialties in medicine.
Over the course of six weeks, students participated in a slew of hands-on learning exercises, working with mannequins that “breathed” and even with one that simulated childbirth, tackling tough clinical cases in small groups and making molds of teeth in a dental lab.
Importantly, the program also includes key instruction on life skills, helping students think through how they’ll go about applying for and paying for a graduate degree, handle the stress involved in pursuing a career in health care, and figure out how to strike a school-life balance.
Crisolongo said one of his favorite parts of the program was problem-solving with his peers. “We all see from different perspectives,” he said. “It was refreshing to see another person’s point of view. I didn’t think of it that way, but then when they say it, I was like, ‘Oh wow.’”
In addition to helping students get hands-on experience, the program also stresses a greater understanding of disparities in the health care system. Crisolongo said those disparities were eye-opening. He and his team members, for example, decided to look at how minorities are significantly over-represented among the population in Alabama with diabetes.
The group, he said, challenged themselves to consider possible solutions and interventions.
And while the days were chock full of learning, Cottrell said she was also able to squeeze in a little summertime fun alongside her fellow program participants. They were able to explore Los Angeles, sightsee in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and make it to a few amusement parks.
“The whole experience is just so amazing,” she said. “People came from everywhere, from Guam, California, Mississippi. It’s really interesting to see how their experiences shaped them and why they want to be in the medical field. It was basically like a whole community.”