What it’s like to participate in the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP)

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There are many ways to gain experience when you are preparing for medical school, like the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP).

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The Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) is a free, six-week summer enrichment program focused on improving access to information and resources for undergraduate students interested in the health professions. SHPEP’s (formerly SMDEP) goal is to strengthen the academic proficiency and career development of students underrepresented in the health professions and prepare them for a successful application and matriculation to health professions schools. To learn more about this thirty-year program, we interviewed two past participants about their experience. 

Nada Ali, SHPEP at University of Florida, 2017
Charbel Aoun, SMDEP at University of Virginia, 2016

What did you do on a typical day in the program?

Nada: A typical day included case-based learning and other professional experiences from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The morning session entailed a variety of educational experiences; for example, academic enrichment to become more acquainted with the advancements in the health care system or clinical laboratory skills and career development classes to help us prepare for our health professions school application. After lunch, we broke out into our different focused pathways to explore more about the profession, which in my case was medicine. And we sometimes had clinical experiences not only in our focused pathway, but also in other health care professions to attain a more rounded view about interprofessionalism. After dinner, I’d have the rest of the night to complete any modules or assignments or have some personal time.

Charbel: A typical day began by going through premed required courses in the morning (i.e., biochemistry, physics, biology). These courses were not graded but we did get a feel for what was expected from a medical school course. About once a week or so, we met in smaller groups to learn how to effectively write our personal statements. The afternoon sessions consisted of hearing from guest lecturers about their work or research. We also got to hear from physicians that practiced at the UVA hospital and learned more about their specialties. There were days in which we rotated in groups to visit different wings of the hospital.

What was your favorite thing you did over the summer?

Nada: I was thankful for all the insights I got from meeting different doctors and medical students who told us about their journeys. I was also grateful to be able to explore other health care professions, giving me a broader perspective on medicine and the importance of interprofessional care. We were also able to explore St. Augustine, Florida, during one of the weekends. That was one of my favorite things I did that summer. I had the chance to make some really good memories with my peers whom I’m still in contact with today.

Charbel: My favorite thing to do was to find time during the weekends to hang out with my classmates. Our group consisted of 80 students from across the country, including Puerto Rico, and we were able to host many social activities when we were not in the classroom.

What was the biggest thing you learned from your experience?

Nada: The biggest thing I learned was that each and every person has their own race to run, and there’s no specific route to becoming a doctor. Each doctor and medical student I met and heard from had unique paths to their current destinations. It taught me to appreciate where I’m at now and strive to pursue my goal of becoming a doctor no matter the setbacks I face. SHPEP gave me the opportunity to solidify my desire to be a doctor in the future.

Charbel: I learned that you have to be open to change and be able to explore and learn things that may be out of your comfort zone. I would say that without participating in this program, I would not be as outgoing or forward-thinking as I am today. This program taught me the true values of cooperating with peers, and when you spend a summer with these classmates they will truly become your friends. To this day, our class continues to chat with each other through the group message that we set up at the beginning of the program.

Do you have any advice for others applying to the program?

Nada: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so make the best out of it and don’t forget to network, take good notes, and have fun.

Charbel: There was a guest lecture by a SHPEP alum and U.S. Army Medical Corps Colonel and he began his presentation with a quote by Milton Berle: “if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

SHPEP is a completely free experience for participating students. To be eligible for the program, you must be a freshman, sophomore, or a student with less than 60 college credits. To learn more about the program, the eligibility requirements, and how to apply, visit shpep.org.

SHPEP is now accepting applications for summer 2019 through Feb. 15!

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