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Anonymous gift boosts Minnesota's Future Doctors program

University of Minnesota undergraduate student Wanda Vue says the Minnesota’s Future Doctors program provides a straight path to her goals.

Growing up in a household of modest means, Clemon Dabney had always wanted to be a role model for his siblings. Now he’s preparing to become a doctor, showing his brothers and sisters that they all can make a difference in the world.

Georgette McCauley’s family fled war-torn Liberia in 2001. Today McCauley is a college student studying to become a doctor so she can help other refugees become more comfortable with Western medicine.

Wanda Vue, the only girl in her Hmong family of six children, became interested in medicine when she started accompanying her father on doctor’s office visits. A first- generation high school and college student, Vue now aims to be the first in her family to attend medical school.

Dabney, McCauley, and Vue are among the first 23 students in a program called Minnesota’s Future Doctors, which targets promising undergraduates from communities that are underrepresented in medicine and equips them with the skills to become strong applicants for medical school.

Program director Jo Peterson, Ph.D., says their classmates are equally inspiring.

“We’ve found lovely, brilliant people with depth and compassion,” she says. “These young people are the whole package, the type of student we want and need in our medical schools if we are to prepare the next generation of physicians—doctors who can relate to the increasingly diverse population in our state.”

Students in the first group of Minnesota’s Future Doctors started their training last summer, and already the program—a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Mayo Medical School—has a faithful group of believers.

One of those believers recently made a $1 million anonymous donation to help sustain the program’s educational vision. The donor has confidence in the power of education and its ability to transform the future.

“This generous gift will help us maintain the program’s momentum and continue to reach talented students across the state who might otherwise consider medical school a dream beyond their reach,” Peterson says.

Minnesota’s Future Doctors program participants Shukri Guled and Fatuma Omer shadow Abdullah Ahmed, M.D., as he talks with a patient at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

Minnesota’s Future Doctors was the brainchild of two University medical students who noticed that the faces in their classrooms did not represent the diversity of Minnesota communities. (Studies of health-care consumers show that people of color and immigrants prefer doctors who share their language, culture, and religion.)

Students selected for the program represent minority, rural, and immigrant groups as well as economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students.

Participants attend three six-week sessions during the summer (another option offers sessions spanning three school years during winter breaks and long weekends). They spend the first and third years of the program at the University and the second year at Mayo, studying biology and chemistry, shadowing physicians, taking part in volunteer activities, and preparing for the Medical College Admission Test.

To recruit the first group of Minnesota’s Future Doctors last year, Peterson drove to almost every community college and state university in Minnesota, asking each school to nominate one student for the program. Those recommendations resulted in meetings with 91 prospective participants, and all 91 applied to the program.

This year, Peterson received 3,600 inquiries from students for the summer class.

As the program continues to garner interest from so many high-quality students, Peterson says she’s grateful for the anonymous donor’s support.

“Someone just gave these kids a little sunshine, and they’ve blown me away,” she says. “I’m more hopeful than I’ve ever been about the future of medicine.”

Minnesota’s Future Doctors is off to a strong start but needs additional funding to sustain it. To learn how you can support the program, contact Cindy Adams Ellis at the Minnesota Medical Foundation at 612-273-8597 or cae@mmf.umn.edu.

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