Quality begins with diversity

Dr. Molinaro in his lab with Sacramento High School students
Sacramento High School students (from left to right) Caitlin Toomey, Lucky Thao, Maria Ceja and Ka Thao learn about novel lighting approaches for visualizing tissue under the microscope from Biophotonics Center scientist Marco Molinaro.

For Sacramento High School senior Cierra Townsend, UC Davis helped cement her desire to become an ob-gyn physician.

“I’ve learned that being a person from an ethnic minority doesn’t mean I can’t be a doctor,” said Townsend. “I’ve been encouraged to continue, to try, and, yes, sometimes to fail — that’s how you get results.”

For fellow classmate Caitlin Toomey, also a senior at the charter school that has a predominantly disadvantaged and underrepresented student population, access to UC Davis scientists focused her on an undergraduate pre-med track.

“Before getting involved at UC Davis, I wasn’t really sure what type of medicine Imight like to practice some day. Now I’m interested in the oncology field,” she said.

Cierra and Caitlin are just two of more than 60 high school students benefitting from the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program. Funded by the National Cancer InstituteUC Davis Cancer Center and National Science Founda­tion’s Center for Biophotonics and Technology, CURE gives promising students a stimulating two-year curriculum that includes coursework, field study and research in cancer.

Students learn about cancer prevention, detection and treatment, as well as clinical duties and life as a physician.

Dr. Latimore"We know that those who study at medical schools with diverse student populations tend to become better doctors — the kind who provide compassionate and culturally competent care."
— Darin Latimore, M.D.

“One of the biggest issues in medicine today is that racial and ethnic minorities make up 44 percent of the population but represent just 9 percent of physicians in California,” said Darin Larimore, the School of Medicine’s newly appointed director of medical student diversity. “Education programs like CURE aim to bring that 9 closer to 44.”

Another UC Davis program, the Saturday Academy, connects 12-to-18-year olds with the mentors, information and inspiration they need to consider pursuing a career in science or medicine. The program was founded and is now taught by UC Davis medical students. Over a period of four Saturdays, medical students take time out of their own challenging schedules to introduce the teens to a condensed version of the medical school curricula.

“Motivating students to go to college and medical school benefits them, their colleagues and future patients,” said Latimore. “The importance of diversity is clear. We know that those who study at medical schools with diverse student populations tend to become better doctors — the kind who provide compassionate and culturally competent care.”

In fact, Hispanic Business magazine ranked UC Davis among the top 10 medical schools in the nation for Latinos in 2008. And Sacramento’s Linking Education and Economic Development agency honored the health system for aligning education to meet regional workforce needs.

“Our programs are making a difference in our local community and beyond,” said Marco Molinaro, the Biophotonics Center’s chief education officer and CURE project director. “All students finish CURE with a good appreciation of science and skill at critical thinking, which will support them in whatever career they go into and will help build the kind of workforce that benefits our nation in the long run."