RWJF Scholars Forum & SMDEP 25th Anniversary Alumni Luncheon

This past weekend I was in Washington, D.C. for the SMDEP Alumni Summit and 25th Anniversary Celebration. Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded program for underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students on the medical or dental path. It offers academic enrichment, clinical exposure, career development, health policy seminars, and development of study and learning skills. It is 6 weeks long and is held at 12 different sites in the country. I participated in this program in 2010 at Howard University College of Medicine. If you are a current freshman or sophomore in college reading this, I HIGHLY encourage you to apply. It was an amazing experience and hands down one of my favorite clinical experiences. You may notice that two of the med student spotlights featured on my site are also SMDEP alumni.

Hey it’s me!

The alumni summit takes place every year, but this was my first time attending. It started out with the “RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health” on Friday Morning. The first part of the event was a “Why We’re Here” session with three speakers. One poignant point that came up with all three speakers was the importance of looking at systems that relate to social determinants of health, access to quality care, education, and more instead of health policy. In other words, focusing on health systems to address health disparities.


The highlight of the forum was “A Conversation on Health Disparities” which was moderated by the Director of Hopkins Center of Health Disparities Solution, Thomas LaVeist, PhD, and included four panelists:

It was a very stimulating and interesting discussion and I ended up live tweeting the event. Topics that came up included: the importance of data and research in effecting change; the importance of engaging the right key holders when doing research – essentially the importance of doing community participatory research; the importance of including (and possibly mandating) cultural competency courses in medical education; and the current political and social justice climate with the non-indictment of Eric Garner, and how this is relevant to the discussion on health disparities (there needs to be a focus on political determinants of health). The conversation ended with the conclusion that community resilience can be learned and modeled. The question is how can we build resilient communities to tackle/ eliminate these disparities in health care.


Next was the SMDEP 25th Anniversary Alumni Luncheon


Darrell kirch, MD, President & CEO of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), as well as Richard Valachovic, DMD, MPH,  President & CEO of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) spoke during the luncheon. One statement particulary stood out to me from what Dr. Valachovic said:

“SMDEP doubles your chances of getting accepted into dental school..It’s a game changer for dental school.”

Again, if you are a freshman or sophomore in college, I highly encourage you to apply. With such a strong statement from the president of ADEA, and with data to back it up, SMDEP is definitely a summer program worth participating in.

Other speakers also gave their perspectives. One of them was James Gavin, MD, PhD, Founding Director of SMDEP. He took us on a journey of how SMDEP was founded and how it progressively changed over the years. It was very fascinating.


Lastly, there were reflections from two SMDEP alums, Richard Ansong, DDS and Tyeese Gaines, DO. They talked about the impact SMDEP made on their lives and the importance of the program. It was encouraging to listen to their journey and success story despite the obstacles they faced. You can read more of Dr. Gaines’s story here.

All in all, I had a great time at both events. I met some really cool people, including a physician from UTHealth at Houston. We had a long discussion on primary care mental health integration, my research, his work as a psychiatrist, and more. Furthermore, I ran into some old friends from my program – Nailah and Kathryn. Kathryn (featured as a med student spotlight) gave a poster presentation later that night on research she conducted over the summer.


In conclusion, it was definitely a packed first day. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire conference and had to leave the next morning. Regardless, I had a great time. FullSizeRender

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