Ashley Williams had a pretty good idea she’d be successful in her studies at VCU’s School of Medicine. She had a sneak peek a year before she actually started.
Williams was part of VCU’s inaugural Summer Academic Enrichment Program in 2012. On May 12, she’ll become the first SAEP grad to go on to complete the M.D. program on the MCV Campus. SAEP provides students with an academically rigorous experience to simulate the first year of health professional school. Students choose a concentration from among four disciplines: dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and physical therapy.
“Not only are you exposed to different subjects and the rigors of long days and long nights, you get to know some of the faculty,” Williams says. “That gives you a leg up when you’re applying to medical schools, and you’re more confident when you get there.”
Williams received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University and a master’s in medical science from Hampton University before entering medical school.
The SAEP program, which provides housing and a stipend to participants, includes core classes, discipline-specific instruction, test-taking workshops, mock interviews and coaching.
The program is designed to see if students can manage an intense health sciences program and to demonstrate the kind of interdisciplinary teamwork that today’s professionals must possess, says Donna Jackson, M.Ed, Ed.D, the medical school’s assistant dean of admissions and director of Student Outreach Programs.
In addition, Jackson says, “We’ve added a community service component so that students understand that part of the privilege of being a health care professional is giving back.” Participants, for example, volunteer at health screenings at nearby St. Paul’s Church.
SAEP also has benefits for students-to-be. For Williams, it allowed her to experience the kind of support she’d receive as a student on the MCV Campus, which sealed the deal for her. In addition to an open-door policy in the Admissions and Administration offices, she found a mentor in Stephanie Crewe, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of pediatrics. Williams also was encouraged during her four years of study by students in the Student National Medical Association and International/Inner City Rural Preceptorship Program, which allowed her to attend to underserved populations, something she plans to do when she finishes her residency in pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta.
Overall, about 67 percent of SAEP graduates eligible to matriculate to health professional programs had done so by the start of this past school year.
Her success at VCU, Williams says, might not have been possible without financial support she received in the form of several partial scholarships. “Not having to worry about finances allows you to focus on your schoolwork,” she says. “It was especially helpful when I had to travel to residency interviews.”
The medical school hopes to be able to offer more of those scholarships through the $25-million 1838 Campaign (named for the year in which the school was founded), which will build the school’s endowment. A goal of the campaign is to give a competitive edge for recruiting and rewarding top students, and reducing student debt.
By Lisa Crutchfield