By Quiana Lewis
(Quiana Lewis joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2014 as a program associate, working to build a Culture of Health by helping people attain stable, affordable health coverage.)
I am one of the more than 22,000 alumni whose careers have been shaped and lives changed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP).
For me, medicine was a logical decision: my academic performance in science was good, I liked interacting with people, and I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
Clearly, my perceptions of medicine and careers in health were limited.
Then came the summer program at UCLA, one of the most transformative experiences of my college education.
A pipeline program for students who typically are underrepresented in health care fields, the program exposed me to the study and practice of medicine and dentistry that enriched my understanding for both fields.
I shadowed physicians, received enrichment in core science subjects, and learned how to excel in medical and dental school. I also received hands-on laboratory experience to create dental models and conducted health screenings at community fairs.
The unexpected lessons from the program, however, were the ones that stuck with me most.
The core science classes were structured using case-based learning methods. This was a departure from the didactic way I was used to learning science. The curriculum used patient case studies to teach biology, anatomy, and physiology. The lessons were investigative in nature and discussion-based.
We discussed not only patients’ medical issues, but also the socioeconomic factors affecting them. This piqued my interest. Until then, I had not thought deeply about the impact of systems on the health of individuals.
Throughout that summer, I read books and journal articles about the social determinants of health, medical anthropology, and epidemiology. The more I read, the more questions I posed, and the more I realized this was the career path for me.
After SMDEP, I continued to explore the vast world of public health at school and in subsequent summer programs. I graduated from Fisk University, and went on to obtain a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. Since graduate school, I have worked in state and local health departments, community organizations, and health consulting firms.
My public health journey has come full circle. I discovered my passion for population health with the help of RWJF, by way of SMDEP. Now, as an RWJF employee, I work with the Foundation to build a Culture of Health across the nation.
Without SMDEP, I might never have discovered my passion.
The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program is currently recruiting for 2015 and will be held at 12 sites across the country. The deadline is March 1. For information, visit http://smdep.org/apply-to-smdep/