Six Week Program Exceeds Dreams, Opens Opportunities
His is the bedrock story of the immigrant “Dreamer” —a life transformed.
Felix German Contreras, 22, is a second-year student at
Who knew this was possible for the 6-year-old Dominican boy who immigrated to
“Wasn’t this move to
One late night in early 2012, Contreras, a calculus and chemistry whiz, tapped a few keystrokes that redirected his fate. A Google search for “medical summer program” returned the life-changing link— “SMDEP”— Summer Medical and Dental Education Program.
The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) is a free, six-week academic enrichment program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The intensive program— which offers tuition, housing and meals at 12 university sites across the country— equips college freshman and sophomores from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in medicine or dentistry.
Contreras applied and was accepted by SMDEP at the
Encouraged by a site advisor to “step up his game,” Contreras read six novels in six months, turning the corner on a new-found love for English.
Less than a year after the program, Contreras is poised for a career in nutrition or public health.
Recalling his experience, “You can’t believe how much six weeks can give to someone who is eager to receive,” he notes. “I believe everybody wants to better themselves. But sometimes they just don’t know how. SMDEP showed me the doors of opportunities to the other side.”
Most doctors in his area are either Asian or Caucasian, which explains the “culture shock” he experienced while studying with fellow Black and Latino students at the Yale SMDEP site. He eagerly welcomed the exposure, recognizing the wave of the future.
Rapid demographic changes are transforming the nation’s population. According to physician workforce data provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges, between 1978 and 2008, 75 percent of all medical school graduates practicing medicine were White. Meanwhile, Blacks, American Indians and Hispanics comprised a combined 12.3 percent
Contreras offers that his mother, who speaks little English, has experienced sub-par health care due to language barriers and a lack of cultural competence by some physicians.
“My mother is like many immigrant people who do not get adequate health care because there is not enough sensitivity to and for their realities,” says Contreras.
“I want to attend Yale School of Medicine—not because it’s Yale—but because of what Yale SMDEP has done for me,” he shares. “It is where my fundamentals were built and has paved everything for me to today.”
“All of this has made me realize, wow—I can be a leader! The little things add up to be big in the end. Sí se puede,” he says, which translates into “Yes We Can!”
Started in 1988 (formerly as the Minority Medical Education Program and Summer Medical and Education Program), more than 20,0000 alumni have completed SMDEP which today sponsors 12 university sites with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session.
SMDEP locations include:
- Case Western Reserve University (
) Cleveland, Ohio
- Columbia University (
) New York, N.Y.
- Duke University (
) Durham, N.C.
- Howard University (
) Washington, D.C.
- University of California-Los Angeles (
) Los Angeles, Calif.
- UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical and New Jersey Dental (
) Newark, N.J.
- University of Louisville (
) Louisville, Ky.
- University of Nebraska (
) Omaha, Neb.
- University of Virginia (
) Charlottesville, Va.
- University of Washington (
) Seattle, Wash.
- University of Texas-Houston (
) Houston, Texas
- Yale University (
) New Haven, Conn.
Now preparing for their summer 2014 cohort, SMDEP accepts applications annually November 1 thru March1. For more information about SMDEP and how to apply, visit www.smdep.org.