Hi, my name is Kelly Alvarado and I’m a junior at Missouri State. This summer, I attended the Health Professions Advanced Summer Scholars (Health P.A.S.S.) at Des Moines University, a hands-on experience that will enhance my resume for medical school and help with my cell & molecular biology degree at Missouri State.
Overcoming the first-gen obstacle
Let’s start at the beginning. I was in elementary school. My mother thought I had another asthma attack and rushed me to the hospital. The doctors discovered I had pneumonia. I don’t remember much from this experience, but what I can remember has shaped my future.
In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I had doubts about the path I was on. I volunteered at a nearby hospital back home and knew I wanted to work in the health field.
Meeting and talking with patients gave me an eye-opening experience and assurance that I was making the right choices. I knew science was it for me, but as a first-generation student, I didn’t know if I had it in me to pursue a higher education degree.
I decided to talk to Juan Meraz, Missouri State’s assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion, about my concerns. I’ve known him since my freshman year and he’s been a reliable support system. When I talked about finding opportunities for the summer, he bought up the Health P.A.S.S. program, which gives students a preview of what it’s like to be in med school.
The program serves economically and educationally disadvantaged students and under-represented minority students. After further research and personally reaching out to the director, Dr. Rich Salas, I began the application process.
A big win
I know it’s cheesy to say, but I’ve honestly never won anything in my life, and so I didn’t have high expectations for getting entry into the program. A month after the deadline passed, I received a personal phone call from Dr. Salas.
It was the best call I’ve ever received. They accepted me. I was one of 10 students who made the cut, out of of 100 national applicants. With only a little over month to prepare for the program, I never expected for some life-changing experiences.
A holistic medical experience
By the time June rolled around, I made my way to Des Moines, Iowa. I lived at Drake University with the nine other students.
Throughout the summer, we learned about the medical school and the city. Whether it was learning in lectures taught by actual instructors or exploring the farmer’s market, each day was filled with events and opportunities.
I job shadowed at the clinic on campus and talked with third- and fourth-year students. As part of the program, the program set us up with mentors who were actual students.
They paired me with Ken Obo, who is in osteopathic medicine, and Stefani Beraldo, who is in podiatric medicine. Both were so engaging and helpful. They made sure I was able to see all of the school and made sure I felt welcome.
Throughout the month, I learned suturing techniques from third-year students, went through simulation of diagnosing a patient, and I even made the best leg cast out of all the students. Dr. Bennett did say it was better than most first-year students’ efforts.
This program helped me with so many things, but the most beneficial one had to be the mock interview. It was great to hear feedback from faculty and students about what I had done best and what still needed to work on.
I even got to meet Des Moines University president Angela Franklin and attend a barbecue at her house.
Confidence I made the right choice
I have to mention how helpful this program was in solidifying my choice in pursuing a higher degree. I met undergraduate students who are facing this similar journey and even some of the medical students who’ve already faced and passed the same obstacles.
Health P.A.S.S. really did give me the chance to experience an opportunity I can’t find anywhere else. From the times of having our own barbecues at Drake University to the late night pizza orders, I found friendships among the other students and I can’t have it any other way.
By the end of the program, I won the “Outstanding Health P.A.S.S. Student of 2017” award. I can’t thank DMU or Health P.A.S.S. enough for this great experience and I can’t wait to further move along my journey with the confidence I never had before.