Alumni

For Less-Advantaged Students, a New Pathway to Medical School

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lacy Manuelito grew up in Fort Defiance on the Navajo Reservation, knowing since she was a little girl that she wanted to be a doctor. The first in her family to graduate from college, she holds a bachelor’s degree in family relations and human development from the University of New Mexico.

Marisela Mariscal, whose heritage is both Hispanic and of New Mexico’s Pueblo Laguna tribe, decided in high school that she wanted to be a doctor. She also is the first in her family to earn a college degree. Hers is in physiology, from the UA.

Sylvestor Moses is a member of Arizona’s San Carlos Apache tribe. In 2013, he completed his PhD at the UA, in biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology. He was an academic counselor and teacher on his reservation, where his goal was to be a role model for youth. Then he realized he could be a role model and even more help to his community as a doctor.

This month, all three will start classes at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.

They are among 10 students who graduated in May from a College of Medicine – Tucson program launched in 2014.

Called P-MAP – for Pre-Medical Admissions Pathway – the one-year program is open to students who have not had the educational and economic advantages that help students get admitted to medical school. But their diverse life experiences and skills - and their academic record – make them outstanding candidates.

P-MAP is open to Arizona residents, with preference given to those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, are first-generation college students, who grew up in rural or border communities, or are registered members of federally recognized tribes. Preference also is given to students who speak Spanish or the Navajo language, the languages most commonly spoken by underserved populations in Arizona. Most of the students want to work in underserved communities.

All 10 students in the inaugural P-MAP class are now enrolled in the UA College of Medicine Class of 2019.

“You hit it out of the park,” Dr. Francisco Moreno, Arizona Health Sciences Center assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion and College of Medicine deputy dean for diversity and inclusion, told the students at their graduation ceremony in May. “You have performed fantastically in all the ways we can think of.”

Dr. Moreno emphasizes that P-MAP is not a remedial program. “These students are all very bright,” he said. “They just may not have had the opportunities or the different kinds of academic and life experiences that most admissions committees want to see.”

The ethnic diversity of the 10 students enrolled in P-MAP this year "enriches the composition of our medical school class,” he said.

The college’s previous efforts to increase student diversity have met with mixed success, said Carlos Gonzales, MD, a fifth-generation Tucsonan who was the first in his family to go to college. He got his MD at the UA in 1981 and did his family medicine residency here. Now associate professor of Family and Community Medicine and the College’s assistant dean for medical student education, he served as the P-MAP students’ mentor.

“I think P-MAP is one of the best things this college has ever done,” he said. And as a person of Hispanic and Pascua Yaqui Indian heritage – he is particularly pleased that 11 Native American students - five of whom are P-MAP graduates - are enrolled in the College of Medicine Class of 2019.

“Of all the under-represented minority groups, Native Americans face the most severe shortage of physicians,” he said.

P-MAP is funded largely through a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant that helps pay for a counselor and learning specialists, and makes possible some tuition scholarships. The program includes the opportunity to obtain a master’s degree in cellular and molecular medicine. Like all med school applicants, P-MAP students have to score well on the Medical College Admissions Test.

Lacy Manuelito, Sylvestor Moses and Marisela Mariscal all credit P-MAP with helping them prepare for medical school – academically and socially.

P-MAP gave Manuelito “a better foundation” for entering medical school, she said. She feels she got the most out of classes in cell biology and pathology, and the anatomy lab.

“I really liked it a lot,” she said. Married with a daughter who will be 4 in October, she is determined to practice medicine on the Navajo reservation. “The turnover rate of doctors there is very frustrating. There is very little continuity of care, and that’s been my motivation for wanting to be a doctor there.” She feels “95 percent sure” she wants to be a pediatrician, but P-MAP “opened up my eyes to other possibilities.”

Although he has a PhD and experience in lab research, P-MAP was “for me, a really great experience,” Moses said. He had not taken classes since 2007, and P-MAP helped him fine-tune his study skills. He also mentored other P-MAP students with less science background.

A single parent with an 11-year-old son, Moses appreciated the counseling and other support services that P-MAP offers. “The support system for us was huge. I wasn’t expecting that, and it really was a big help.”

P-MAP helped Mariscal by teaching her how to evaluate her academic performance. “As the class went on, I was able to identify some areas that still needed work and I would work on those areas and my test grades improved.”

Equally important were the friendships that developed among P-MAP’s first 10 graduates. “I’ve grown close to those nine people and I’m really grateful for that,” she said. “We’ll be a support system for each other as we go through medical school.”

Mariscal’s 4-year-old son and her passion for helping underserved communities led to her wanting to be a doctor. “Too many people can’t afford to get treated or get regular check-ups. I experienced that growing up.” She is interested in pediatrics and family medicine, “but I feel more open-minded than I was at the beginning of the program,” she said.

“Getting into medical school is something I’ve wanted for a long time,” she said. “I know it’s going to be rigorous, but I feel more confident now than I did a year ago.”

By Jane Erikson