UTHealth medical and dental students participate in simulation exercises as part of the 2013 Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at UTHealth earlier this summer.
UTHealth medical and dental students participate in simulation exercises as part of the 2013 Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at UTHealth earlier this summer.

Seventy-nine college students from 18 states converged on the Texas Medical Center for six weeks earlier this summer to participate in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry and Medical School.

Funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, SMDEP is an academic enrichment program for talented, under-represented students interested in dentistry or medicine. The program is offered at UTHealth and 11 other sites across the nation. UTHealth received $315,000 in support of the program this year. Students attend at no charge and receive stipends over the six weeks.

Admission is highly competitive; more than 1,000 students applied for the program at UTHealth, but only 58 pre-med and 22 pre-dental students were chosen. School of Dentistry Associate Dean Dr. Karen Novak is principal investigator for the grant, along with Medical School Professor and Assistant Dean Dr. Andrew Harper, who directs the medical component of the program.  School of Dentistry Associate Dean Dr. Philip Pierpont directs the dental component.

UTHealth dental students Greg Chaffin, Mike Rasmussen, David Stonestreet and Christopher Thorburn served as mentors and tutors, along with medical students Mike Allen, James Oyeniyi, Bobbi Porche and Alexis Tovar.

During their six weeks at UTHealth, SMDEP students lived in Rice University housing and used MetroRail, the UT Shuttle and their feet to get around the Texas Medical Center, getting crash courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, statistics, microbiology, and organic chemistry. The students also observed in clinical settings, such as the emergency room.

The program covered cultural sensitivity, financial planning, study skills, interviewing and resume-writing – all with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of under-represented students in the health professions.

Novak said the SMDEP students also participated in social events that included a cookout, movie night, and a talent show organized by the UTHealth mentors.

SMDEP at UTHealth is a massive project that requires months of planning and contributions by a wide range of professionals.  At the School of Dentistry, the team included Novak, Pierpont and Dr. Art Jeske, Rebecca Lopez, Janis Smith, Dr. Sam Dorn and Dr. Sudarat Kiat-amnuay.

Medical School contributors included Harper and Dr. John Foringer, Marcy Hamburger, Dr. LaTanya Love, Dr. Pedro Mancias and Dr. Robin Williams.

Faculty from San Jacinto College also participated, including Center for Teaching and Learning Assistant Director Martha Robertson, Dr. Joyce Miller, Frank Richardson, Dr. Walter Thompson, Dr. J.P. Anderson and Susan Lustick.

Other presenters came from varied backgrounds: Educational consultant Kathleen Straker spoke on study skills; Dr. Leon Johnson discussed financial planning; Jay Heuman, public programs coordinator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, assisted with the art of observation course; and Tarawa Goode, director of the National Center for Cultural Competency, spoke on cultural differences.

-Rhonda Whitmeyer, School of Dentistry