Growing up a young Hispanic woman in the Soundview section of the Bronx, the idea that she could one day become a physician seemed impossible to Patricia Diaz. However, thanks to the Bronx Science and Health Opportunities Partnership (BxSHOP) at Einstein, a career as a doctor is fast becoming a reality.
Patricia Diaz, class of 2014, was a C-STEP student at Fordham University. She also was an alumni panel member at the youth conference.Recently, the second-year medical student had the opportunity to share her journey into medicine at the second annual BxSHOP Summer Youth Conference, serving as an inspiration to high school and college students looking to learn about careers in health.
"It's like I'm talking to myself three years ago," she said. "BxSHOP can offer so much to these students. A career in medicine doesn't have to be impossible."
BxSHOP is a federally funded program first created by Einstein in 2004 to promote interest in healthcare professions among the economically disadvantaged and underrepresented student populations of the Bronx.
"Despite the struggling economy, the healthcare industry is still hiring, but blacks and Hispanics are being left out of these opportunities," said Dr. Maria Marzan, co-director of BxSHOP along with Dr. Hal Strelnick.
Dr. Marzan believes BxSHOP will help correct this unfortunate discrepancy through its unique collaborations between free-standing middle schools, high schools, colleges, post-baccalaureate programs, and community-based enrichment and clinical exposure programs. Partners include M.S. 45 and 95, Clinton High School, Fordham University's STEP and C-STEP and the Bronx Westchester Area Health Education Centers, along with the medical school's Einstein Enrichment Program and Hispanic Center of Excellence. As a result, students are guided through a pipeline along every step of their education, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a medical degree, preferably at Einstein.
"Working in the community with these partners has been an incredibly satisfying experience," said Dr. Marzan. "By getting these students interested in science and math, we're opening them up to new opportunities. Just by helping to increase high school graduation rates among blacks and Hispanics, we are making a major impact in the Bronx."
Dr. Srinivas Reddy shares insights about trauma surgery Dr. Marzan hopes to accomplish more with the program, offering it to younger students and expanding BxSHOP throughout the borough. "The demand is so great, but we can't get to all the schools that would like to participate," she said. "Not without the funding."
And there is a reason for the demand. "It's a great partnership, a beacon for other programs to mimic," said Fabricio Caro, director of center programs at Bronx-Westchester Area Health Education Center, which conducts a six-week summer program that exposes students to a variety of careers in the health fields as well as to health issues affecting their communities.
"Collaborations like these are important, because we lack healthcare professionals who reflect their communities. As we face a rise in chronic diseases, conditions are compounded by various language and cultural barriers," continued Mr. Caro. "Having doctors who speak the language of their patients and who have an appreciation and cultural understanding of the communities in which they serve can help reduce some of these health disparities."
"Medical school is one of the most rigorous endeavors that many of these students will face," added Renaldo Alba, associate director of the Fordham STEP and C-STEP Programs, which are funded by a grant from the New York State Education Department. "They might become disillusioned, not because they aren't talented, but because they need people to believe in them and that's what these programs offer."
Fordham STEP, for youth in junior high school and high school, and C-STEP, for college students, are year-long academic programs designed to prepare participants for the rigorous path to medical school. Ms. Diaz is one of many success stories to benefit from these programs.
Before her involvement in C-STEP being a doctor was only a passing thought. Serving as a translator during her grandmother's regular visits to a local clinic, Ms. Diaz was disappointed that there were no Latino doctors at the facility. She began to think she could make a difference as a physician. But the fact that there were no Latinos in medicine initially kept the Bronxite from pursuing this dream.
"There were no doctors that looked like me," she explained, "and people in my community told me that becoming a doctor would be really hard. I decided not to pursue it."
A. Julia Cruz offers guidance on developing a resumeFate had other ideas, though: Prior to entering Fordham University as a freshman, a mistake listed her major as pre-med.
"Rather than say something, I decided to give it a try," she said. "And Renaldo and the C-STEP program were with me every step of the way."
Mr. Alba noted, "C-STEP is designed to help students like Ms. Diaz prepare for their MCAT exam, medical school applications, and the interview process. It also offers guidance on preparing for what lies ahead financially. We nurture students and provide the support they need to succeed."
In Ms. Diaz's case, C-STEP's support included workshops, meetings and networking opportunities with Einstein faculty. "Einstein was the only place where I felt the students were happy and the professors were willing to help you," she said. "I have found it to be everything I wanted in a medical school and more."
As she works toward her medical degree, Ms. Diaz looks forward to helping her community by practicing medicine in the Bronx.
"Upon graduation, underrepresented minorities tend to go back to their communities to practice medicine," noted Dr. Marzan. "They understand the cultural and language barriers that affect people's health – perhaps they've even experienced it. It's important for them to go back and help eliminate these health disparities affecting their families and community."
Ms. Diaz knows this well. "Some moms don't know about immunization shots or how important a yearly checkup can be for their children," she explained. "It made me realize there's more work that needs to be done and programs like BxSHOP and C-STEP have made it possible for me to make that difference in the Bronx."
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Posted on: Friday, July 15, 2011