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Nakeia Chambers outside Weiskotten Hall.

Upstate to welcome 23 students to campus this week for first Pre-Med Opportunity Program

Nearly two dozen State University of New York students will spend four days this week on the Upstate Medical University campus immersed in a series of clinical experiences and hearing from experts on how to apply to and succeed in medical school.

The 23 students are members of the inaugural class of the Pre-Med Opportunity Program, which was announced by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras earlier this year. The program was created to solve for persistent income disparities among the nation’s medical schools, with about two-thirds of students coming from families within the top two quintiles of family income. ($78,870 to $225,251.)

The residential summer program includes clinical exposure through Upstate’s simulation labs, as well as workshops, skill development and academic programming. Students will also receive remote instruction to prepare them for medical school prerequisite courses–organic chemistry and microbiology—that they will take in the fall 2021 semester.

Upstate is partnering with SUNY Downstate, Buffalo, Stony Brook University and College of Optometry for the program, which was originally slated to start in 2022. But Nakeia Chambers, MSEd, director of multicultural, disabilities and veterans affairs, hustled to pull together a program this year. As director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Upstate – a long-standing SUNY program that provides access, academic support and financial aid to promising college students who might not otherwise be offered admission – Chambers said providing new opportunities for students in need is always a priority.

“It’s a population where you’re taking a chance on them, you’re taking a second look. It’s all in the name of opportunity,” Chambers said. “This is a population of students that have already been identified as not having access to some things. Most of these students are probably working to help support their families and don’t have time to find a doctor to shadow.

“Because of their circumstances, they may have been guided by a lot of dream killers that say because you don’t have, you can’t be. And we’re saying you can be, we just need to help guide you there.”

The 23 participating students will be college juniors in the fall and are pursuing medicine, optometry, physical therapy or physician assistant programs. Many are the first in their families to graduate high school or college, and most likely the first in their families to apply to medical school – a process that can be daunting and expensive, Chambers said. SUNY is covering all costs incurred for the program including transportation, room, board and instruction. Organizers hope the students will eventually pursue a graduate education at SUNY, but this program will prepare students to go anywhere, Chambers said.

The students are scheduled to move into Upstate’s Geneva Tower Residence Hall on Sunday, July 18. Starting Monday, they are slated for more than three full days of programming at Upstate that includes lectures and conversations with Upstate and SUNY experts, hands-on experiences in the simulation center, an admissions workshop and other clinical experiences such as a “stop the bleed” training and surgery observation. Chancellor Malatras is scheduled to have lunch with the students on Wednesday, July 21.

Chambers has been working with Rachel Zoanetti, admissions counselor in the College of Medicine and Denise Markowsky, an Upstate admissions coordinator, to organize the program.

“They say it takes a village – I think this is a great step in building that village for these students,” Zoanetti said. “I have conversations with students and they say, ‘no one has ever explained that to me,’ and these are folks from privileged backgrounds to the historically marginalized. So just giving students the places and the comfortability to learn what this process is all about is what I’m really excited about. I’m already thinking ‘how can I stay engaged with these students throughout the year?’ “

Caption: Nakeia Chambers, MSEd, director of multicultural, disabilities and veterans affairs at Upstate, outside Weiskotten Hall.