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MAPS Conference attendees standing together in lobby

One club’s mission: Supporting more representative future doctors

By Cari Longman

Attendees of the January Minority Association of Premedical Students, or MAPS, Career Development Conference focused on LGBTQ+- issues in medicine.

The Minority Association of Premedical Students, or MAPS, was founded in 2016 to help students from underrepresented backgrounds get into medical school. “We want to retain as many minority pre-med students as we can,” said Mason McDowell, MAPS club vice president. “Studies have shown that when you’re in a community of color and your doctor looks like you, your treatment will be better and health outcomes are improved,” he added.

The club offers a variety of ways to support minority premedical students. Club meetings, which average 20 to 30 students, often feature medical professionals or medical students from across Oregon as guest speakers or student panels comprised of alumni or upperclassmen. “We also have a mentorship program between upper and underclassmen,” said Julia Zavala, club president. “There are more obstacles for minorities and people of color to pursue medicine," she said. “We want to provide as much support to these groups as we can by giving first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students opportunities to succeed in medicine.”

Zavala is one of those first-generation college students. A junior biology major from Tigard, Oregon, she spent four years living with family in Mexico from 7th grade to her sophomore year of high school. During that time, she volunteered in hospitals and with end-of-life care, witnessing the challenges that a lack of medical care poses to many in underserved communities. “My grandma had to go to a hospital two hours away to get the right type of care,” she said. “I opted to finish high school in the U.S. and pursue medical school. I want to have more representative physicians in the workforce and work with underserved communities. I want to help communities that don’t have the resources they need,” she added.

A photo of MAPS club leadership

2019-2020 MAPS club leadership. From left, Julio Diaz, Lam Duc, Mason McDowell, Toren Ikea-Mario, Julia Zavala and Sharon Kim.

The club held a conference in January for OSU students interested in learning specifically about LGBTQ+ issues in medicine. Dr. Christopher Terndrup from OHSU’s Transgender Health Program served as the conference’s keynote speaker. Members of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) also spoke, including the past president and founder of MAPS at OSU, Ranya Guennoun, who now serves as an SNMA board member. Speakers also included trans members of the Corvallis community and public health graduate students, who spoke on specific issues affecting trans communities.

In addition to the LGBTQ+-specific sessions, the conference offered practical workshops to help premedical students complete their medical school applications and interview practice and tips. More medical schools are now turning to a new interview technique, called the Multiple Mini Interview, or MMI, instead of traditional interviews with just one representative of the medical school.

“MMIs are a more encompassing assessment on different interview topics,” explained Toren Ikea-Mario, a biochemistry and molecular biology senior and MAPS committee chair. Much like speed dating, interviewees rotate between a circuit of interview panels every few minutes, answering questions on a variety of topics, from ethics to role-playing patient-doctor scenarios. The January career development conference offered an opportunity to practice the MMI format and receive feedback on their responses and interview styles from OHSU medical students.

Ikea-Mario has wanted to pursue medicine since his identical twin brother’s recovery from Hodgkin's lymphoma at age five. “That experience allowed us to go to a children’s cancer camp together, Camp Millennium,” he said. “I’ve been involved with the camp now for fifteen years, either as a camper or as staff. Being in that community opened my eyes to the good, the bad and the ugly of cancer, and opened me up to the concept of going into medicine. I want to specialize in oncology. It would be awesome to see a lot more people in remission, and to have a camp not just for children that have cancer, but for children in remission,” he added.

MAPS also partners with the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), which supports underrepresented minority medical students to get into and succeed in medical school. A major club event each year is attending SNMA conferences. “We’re trying to encourage more members to attend. We had a good group signed up to go this year,” said Zavala, though this year’s April conference was moved online. The conferences “are awesome because we can talk to medical students and recruitment chairs from across the country. It was amazing to be in a huge conference room with people of color attending and thriving in amazing schools. It was very empowering,” she added.

“Before the SNMA conference last year, I was set on OHSU for medical school, said Vice President McDowell, “and it’s still my top choice. But thanks to the conference, I can now picture myself going to other institutions.”

McDowell, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Hood River Oregon started at OSU in computer science. “I did two internships and realized that wasn’t for me. Then I ran into a doctor. I never knew any doctors growing up, and found a special place in my heart for helping people and resolving health disparities,” he said.

This term, the club is still trying to keep its members engaged. “We’re adapting our meetings to Zoom,” said Zavala, “and we’ve postponed some of our more interactive meetings. But other than that, our meetings will be based more on our mission and values. We hope to get medical students or physicians to give talks and continue to encourage our members,” she added.