Kenya Swilling and Kaia Amoah have dreamed of becoming doctors for as long as they can remember.

“I was fascinated with all the different instruments in the room and loved watching the doctor perform the exam,” Swilling said. “I always knew I wanted to be a doctor.”

After witnessing underrepresentation in the health care profession and seeing inequity in access and treatment for African-Americans, Amoah said she became intent on making a difference.

This summer, Swilling and Amoah are taking a step closer to making their dreams a reality. They are taking part in a new partnership between the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Hampton University that was created to increase the presence of those underrepresented in medical schools and in the health care professions.

Each summer, through participation in this program, two Hampton University students will gain an introduction to different aspects of medical school preparation, clinical rotations, and intensive research. Once they graduate from college, the students can choose to accept guaranteed admission into the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, beginning in the fall of 2017, provided they meet certain academic requirements.

As part of the Summer Research Internship administered through Virginia Tech’s Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, Swilling and Amoah are spending 10 weeks working in Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute laboratories and observing in the Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital emergency department.

“This experience has been even better than I expected,” said Swilling, who is from Hampton. “I’m learning a lot, especially in the lab.”

Swilling is working in the laboratory of Michael Fox, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Under the graduate mentorship of Aboozar Monavarfeshani, Swilling is using scanning microscopy to analyze how synapses are formed in the brain.

Amoah, who is from Houston, Texas, is working in the laboratory of Sarah McDonald, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Under the guidance of graduate student Allison McKell, Amoah is helping to conduct research on understanding how rotaviruses replicate.

Both students will present their research at a symposium Friday, July 31, at Virginia Tech.

“We’re looking for students who are competitive academically,” said Lauren Wiley, the medical school’s student recruitment coordinator who organizes the Virginia Tech Carilion-Hampton University part of the broader program. “Hampton University is known for supplying a significant number of underrepresented students to medical schools each year. Their pre-med program made it easy for us to find students who were interested in both science and medicine.”

The partnership between the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Hampton University was conceived by Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions at the medical school, who worked with Michael Druitt, pre-health advisor at Hampton University, to outline the program. A formal agreement between the two schools was signed by Cynda Johnson, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, in October 2013.

“Pipeline programs to encourage recruitment and retention of diverse students are not new to Virginia Tech,” said Karen Eley Sanders, chief diversity officer for the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “Our partnership with Hampton University is an expansion of a robust program Virginia Tech has had in place for two decades.”

Each Hampton University student selected for guaranteed admission will be in good academic standing at the end of their sophomore year and have strong recommendations from faculty members.

“The experience this summer has been very rewarding, and it’s giving me a glimpse of what the medical profession is truly like,” Amoah said. “One of the highlights is the amount of clinical observation I am exposed to. Being here this summer has been an opportunity for me to build upon my medical school preparation.”

She and Swilling share high academic goals with the 36 other participants in the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program. Spawned by a combination of personal experience and shadowing opportunities, Amoah’s interests include neonatology, dermatology, and emergency medicine, while Swilling is considering pediatrics and anesthesiology.

“I love Virginia Tech,” Amoah said. “One of the highlights of our experience has been living with a diverse group of peers who are all interested in taking their studies seriously.”

In addition to providing research and clinical experience, the summer program helps prepare the students for the Medical College Admission Test. Even though admission to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is guaranteed, the students must still participate in a day of intensive mini medical interviews with other prospective students. Those selected for guaranteed admission must graduate with university honors and achieve high scores on the Medical College Admission Test.

In developing the program, Sanders and Wiley have worked closely with Druitt and Michelle Penn-Marshall, head of Hampton University’s biological sciences department and a graduate of Virginia Tech. Over the course of the academic year, Sanders and Wiley visited Hampton University several times to meet with students and faculty, including Calvin Lowe, dean of the university’s School of Science. In addition, faculty from Hampton University will visit the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and attend the students’ research presentations at the conclusion of the program.

“One of my jobs has been establishing and maintaining the relationship between the two schools and really selling this unique experience to qualified students,” Wiley said.

Promoting the uniqueness of the program is critical, especially because Hampton University has similar partnerships with other medical schools, including Boston University School of Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Meharry Medical College, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

The program is a proven best practice promoted in the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Roadmap to Diversity, a series of strategic action plans that provide guidance to facilitate access to medical schools for women, first-generation college students, and underrepresented minorities.

“We think this is an opportunity to highlight the strengths relative to Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech Carilion as outlined in the Roadmap to Diversity,” Sanders said. “Two of the themes in the plan are reflected in the Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech Carilion missions, values, and Principles of Community. Those themes are our broad definition of diversity and the consideration of diversity as a means to achieve educational and research excellence.”

Written by Catherine Doss.
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