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Mentoring Program Builds Primary Care Pipeline

Take Michaela Ward, a first-generation college student who is training to be the first physician in her family. 

Now, pair her up to mentor Zoya Khan, a medical-school-bound undergraduate whose father is a working physician and whose mother is also trained as a doctor.

Yes, the arrangement challenges stereotypes. 

But for two students participating in the inaugural year of the Primary Care Champion (PCC) program, it also works. The mentoring program has provided a much-appreciated source of friendship and support during the trials of COVID-19, Ward and Khan agreed in a recent Zoom call and emails. “I text Michaela in the most random moments!” says Khan, who graduated from Youngstown State University in May. 

Because of the pandemic, they’ve found safe ways to connect, like Facetime, Instagram and Snapchat, as well as in Zoom meetings with Mike Appleman, M.A. Ed. (the director of Primary Care Education in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and associate director of the Integrated Pathway Programs at Northeast Ohio Medical University) and the rest of the members of the PCC program. 

Teaming up to build careers in primary care

The Primary Care Champion program is a collaboration between a student organization at NEOMED called the Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) and the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholars Program of Northeast Ohio – the latter of which is
led by Patricia Thornborough, M.S. Ed., the regional program director of the Northeast
Ohio AHEC Program. The PCC program allows students finishing their pre-health degrees (such as Khan) to learn from medicine students in the FMIG – such as Ward, a second-year
College of Medicine student – about the medical school process and insights into the profession. 

Ward plans to pursue family medicine, after having positive shadowing experiences in rural hospitals. (She liked seeing that the physicians were an integral part of the community, serving on school boards and such.) Sharing her early experiences with Khan has helped the younger student.

“Michaela helps me anticipate what’s to come, and so much more! She’s been a great person to voice my concerns to. She answers any and all questions that I have, from financial aid to other opportunities at NEOMED,” says Khan. 

“She connects me to other people, and through her, I’ve made other friends. She’s been a great icebreaker, and through her I’ve developed a deeper sense of familiarity and closeness with the NEOMED community.”

Connecting to others

Khan started at Youngstown State, a NEOMED partner school. She was in YSU’s BaccMed Program, which gave her the opportunity to complete her undergraduate degree in three years and to compete against herself for a reserved seat to the College of Medicine through NEOMED’s Early Assurance program

[Note: Early Assurance constitutes a student earning the privilege of a reserved seat in medical school at NEOMED, provided the candidate meets or exceeds admission standards to claim their reserved seat. Early Assurance is not admission to medical school at NEOMED and does not “guarantee” admission at a later date.] 

Coming up the way she did provided peace of mind to Khan as an undergraduate, she said. And she feels confident that the mentoring program will ease her transition into the rigors of professional school when she starts at the College of Medicine.

“Joining AHEC Scholars helped me feel glued to other students in pre-med,” Khan said.   

Addressing a primary care shortage

Much has been written about the national shortage of primary care physicians. It’s not a new problem. The federally funded AHEC program was launched nationally back in 1972 (before NEOMED existed) “to improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other health practitioners in medically underserved areas.” 

Students typically begin the AHEC program in their junior year, but Khan was allowed to start in her senior year. She and Ward were matched for the Primary Care Champion program after responding to a survey. 

With a decision a few years off, Khan is considering dermatology or primary care. One factor in her final choice? She wants the ability to have long-term relationships with her patients.  To explore career options during her time in the College of Medicine, she’s looking into participating in one of the Integrated Pathway Programs, such as the social justice program, offered at NEOMED. “Being in a pathway will help me integrate what I’m doing as a medicine student with the outside world,” she said. 

“Michaela’s been a great mentor, but also a great friend, and after getting to know her, I am even more excited for NEOMED in the fall.”