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Program Helps Local Youth 'STEP' up to Medicine

UofR STEP Youth ProgramSometimes it just takes one day at a medical center to inspire a teenager to go into medicine. Other times, it confirms that it’s not for them. No matter the path, one longstanding program at the School of Medicine and Dentistry is giving local middle and high school students the opportunity to decide for themselves.

“It’s a win win either way,” says Adrienne Morgan, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Medical Education Diversity and Inclusion and director of the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), a state grant-funded program for students who are economically disadvantaged or from backgrounds historically underrepresented in medicine.

This summer, 60 STEP students in grades 7-12 spent four weeks learning everything from Narcan training, to basic first aid, triaging and wilderness medicine training. Their preparation culminated in a simulated emergency response drill to apply these skills.

Since the program began in the 1970s, hundreds of students from Monroe County have come through STEP. Morgan says it’s become a successful pipeline that has not only increased the diversity pool of clinicians who now practice at URMC but inspired many alumni to pursue other non-MD roles like nurses, PA’s, technologists and researchers, to name a few.

Owen Tolbert, who is entering his freshman year at the University of Rochester in the fall, was a STEP student for two years and returned this summer to work as a project assistant. “When I first started STEP I wanted to be exposed to what the field of medicine had to offer, and a lot of it was clinical work treating patients,” said Owen. “The nice thing about the program is the emphasis on the Biopsychosocial Model of Medicine, which looks at the big picture and what other factors affect them, and that’s what really influenced what I want to do now.”

He was accepted into the Rochester Early Medical Scholars (REMS) program, which fast-tracks undergraduates into medical school after earning their bachelor’s degree.  He decided to major in biology and economics, and will decide later whether medical school is for him.

In addition to the summer program, STEP is also offered for students during the academic year. For this, students come two Saturdays a month to get personalized instruction from medical students. Many participants also spend time in research labs working on projects.

Morgan says STEP is launching a new branch – STEP 4 – for its most advanced students looking for opportunities to do more in-depth research and training at URMC. This could be in a research lab or in a department where they can be a transporter or tech, so they can get perspective on potential careers.

“We’re really looking for more faculty members to help with placements so students can get research or employment opportunities, especially as we go into the STEP 4 phase,” said Morgan. “Our network and our pool of volunteers is going to have to be much bigger.”

And it’s not just about faculty. Exposing students to non-MD career opportunities is just as important, Morgan explained.

“If you want to come talk about your job, your career path and your life story, we’d be interested in that. We realize that not everybody is going to be a clinician but maybe they want to become a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, or a nurse, for example. We want students to be aware of all the opportunities available to them within the health care profession.”

Want to know how you can help? Email to pitch your idea. If you know a student who may want to apply to the program, visit UR Medicine's School of Medicine and Dentistry's High School and Undergraduate Programs page for more information.

Published on July 22, 2019