nnalese Williams was only 15 years old when she first set foot on the UF College of Medicine campus as a participant of the Health Care Summer Institute — a College of Medicine program that immerses underrepresented minority students in the world of health care professions. The third-year UF medical student from Ocala looks back on it as the beginning of something special.
“Before that experience, I was under the impression that people who looked like me were not in the medical field,” said Williams, who now works as a camp coordinator for the Health Care Summer Institute, organized by Donna Parker, MD ’90, and her team at the UF College of Medicine’s Office for Diversity and Health Equity.
Parker explained that UF and the College of Medicine have a number of pipeline programs in place that target young, pre-professional minority students or students from rural areas with limited access to health care. The programs can include physician and scientist shadowing, laboratory time, college prep courses and, most important, mentoring from current medical students.
“It is remarkable to see the shift in a young person’s thinking when they realize there are opportunities for them they hadn’t thought of,” Parker said. “They see others who are like them or who came from a similar background studying medicine, and they begin to think they can do it too.”
Nearly 75 percent of participants from Parker’s summer institute program go on to college and about 50 percent pursue graduate education.
“If we are going to alleviate health disparities and achieve health equity in our communities, we must increase diversity in the physician workforce,” Parker said. “It’s crucial to show students at an early age that there is a whole world of possibilities out there for them — that they can dream bigger.”