SMDEP 2014 groupThe Summer Medical and Dental Education Program wrapped up earlier this month at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry and Medical School, where 80 rising college juniors or sophomores spent six weeks getting a first-hand look at health care professions.

Sixty pre-medical and 20 pre-dental students — all from minority groups, rural areas, or economically disadvantaged backgrounds —are chosen to participate each year, with the goal of encouraging their interest in health professions. This year’s class includes 27 men and 53 women from 22 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. They were selected from 466 applicants.

From May 27 through July 3, the students live in dormitories at Rice University, eat with Memorial Hermann Hospital meal tickets, and travel by foot or UT Shuttle to classes on the UTHealth campus in the Texas Medical Center.

They get crash courses in statistics, science (chemistry, physics, microbiology, anatomy, and physiology), and life skills, such as financial planning, study skills, stress management, communication, cultural awareness, and advice on navigating medical or dental school admissions.  The students also spend time in clinical settings, shadowing physicians, dentists, and other health professionals at work.

Thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, except for travel costs the program is free to the students, who receive stipends every other week during their stay.

The students applied for the program online and were able to choose from 12 possible SMDEP sites across the country, although only nine offer the combined dental and medical programs.

Traditionally, UTHealth student volunteers serve as mentors and tutors for SMDEP. This year’s dental tutors include Brady Atkins, Mary Becker, Mason Borth, Andrew Naeger and Eric Phan.  Medical tutors are Crystal Acosta, Christopher Martin, Allison Narta, Ethan Reznicek, Natalie Tedford and Christopher Martin, who served as the 2014 Lead Tutor.

Dr. Karen Novak serves as the SMDEP principal investigator.  Dr. Philip Pierpont and Dr. Andrew Harper are co-directors of the program — Pierpont for the School of Dentistry and Harper for the Medical School.  Martha Robertson, of San Jacinto Community College, serves as basic science curriculum director, and Janis Smith, of the School of Dentistry, is the SMDEP program coordinator.

-Rhonda Whitmeyer, School of Dentistry