Supporting a new generation of physicians

By Kali Dingman

Since he was in eighth grade, Charles Vang knew he wanted to be a doctor. The combination of science and humanities and his desire to help people sparked his interest in medicine.

As an undergraduate at Macalester College and throughout medical school at the University of Minnesota, Vang never took his eyes off the prize. Thanks to his determination and a boost from the U’s Minnesota’s Future Doctors (MFD) program, Vang has completed his medical degree and is now a family medicine resident at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul.

MFD helps college-age Minnesotans from communities underrepresented in medicine — ethnic minorities, students from low-income families or rural areas, and first-generation college students — prepare for admission to medical school. Beginning their sophomore year of college and ending at graduation, MFD participants explore hospitals and clinics; meet current medical students, residents, and physicians; and learn how to prepare a competitive application to medical school.

“I believe that the MFD program played a critical role in helping me achieve my goal of becoming a physician,” Vang says. “The MFD program provided direction, which was appreciated, as my [previous] role models in medicine were limited.”

Vang is among the first six MFD participants admitted to the University of Minnesota Medical School to complete their medical degrees. Since the program was launched in 2007, 25 percent of MFD students have been admitted to medical schools across the country, and 50 percent are now enrolled as undergraduate students with the intent to pursue medical school after graduation. The others are entering or pursuing other graduate or professional programs, or are working outside of medicine.

Program director Simone Gbolo says the program clearly benefits students from underrepresented communities.

“There are barriers to accessing medical school for students from communities that are underrepresented in medicine. If you don’t have programs like this — that motivate, advise, and support students and that address these challenges — barriers will continue to exist,” Gbolo says.

Initially, a generous gift from an anonymous donor helped get the MFD program started. Over time, funding sources have grown, and today most of the program’s funding comes from the Medical School.

As the program expands, Gbolo says it’s important to understand its larger impact: “MFD is not only fueling our pipeline for training future physicians from communities that are underrepresented in medicine but fueling that pipeline on a national level as well.”

Published on March 24, 2015