by Sarah Chang
For many pre-med students, the world of medical school seems as mysterious as a distant planet. But not anymore. Thanks to the efforts of the director and assistant director of Trojan Health Volunteers (THV) Holly Villamagna and Kevin Nguyen, as well as first-year Keck medical students and co-presidents Chelsea Boe, Starr Whitt, and Kristen Louie, pre-med juniors and seniors can now sample real medical school life before they apply through the Trojan Health Mentors program.
Now in its third year, Trojan Health Mentors was first created by a former THV director and two former-THV-directors-turned-Keck-students, who intended the program to familiarize undergraduate students (particularly those involved with THV) with the life of a medical student before they actually enter medical school.
“We view this program as a way to put people in touch with medical students and share their experiences,” Boe said.
“We want to help undergraduates understand that getting to medical school is more than grades and MCAT scores and a career in medicine is not just a job, it’s an entire lifestyle.”
In the past, the program has always been held in the Spring because it takes the Fall Semester to get everything organized.
Participation in the Trojan Health Mentors program is decided by a first-come, first-served basis. At the end of Fall semester, THV students are asked if they would like to participate. When they confirm through e-mail, they are asked to fill out a survey.
Mentors go through a similar process. An e-mail is sent to first- and second- year students at the end of the Fall, and typically about one-fourth of the recipients reply.
The THV and Keck coordinators then get together to match mentors and mentees by similar interests. Once a match has been made, both mentor and mentee receive an e-mail alerting them of their new partnership. There is one collective meet-and-greet event at the beginning of the program, and after that, mentors and mentees are left to decide for themselves how they want to conduct the rest of the mentorship experience.
“We’d like to [have more events],” Villamagna said. “[Such as] have a day where everyone goes to class with a mentor, or a workshop where med students teach undergrads how to do [procedures].
“The logistical problem is that everyone’s busy. Med students don’t want to do too much before exams and undergrad’s schedules are so spread out. Scheduling the whole group [involves] timing issues,” she said.
Typically, 20 to 30 THV mentor-mentee groups are paired through the mentoring program each year. This year, however, there are 60 mentor-mentee pairs, most of them associates of THV. Still, Trojan Health Mentors’ coordinators are eager to see it grow.
“[My vision is] to expand it,” Nguyen said. “What we have right now is fine, but it’ll be helpful if more people are aware of it.”
Ultimately, the experience is supposed to show undergraduates interested in becoming dotors what it really takes to have a successful and fulfilling experience in medical school.
“For the undergraduates, it seems like too often it’s assumed that good grades and scores will get you anywhere,” Boe said. “
The fact is…being a well-rounded individual who understands yourself, your place and takes the time to think about these things is what makes a great medical student and physician.”