During her first year at Oakland University, sophomore Subha Hanif was unsure what to pursue as a career.
That uncertainty vanished after Hanif attended the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at the University of Virginia.
Hanif originally found out about the program through a website called aspiringdocs.org. The website was recommended to her during the Honors College Career Day.
Upon visiting the site, she saw a link to the application about SMDEP. Although she was unsure whether she wanted to continue as a premed student, she decided to apply to the program anyway and was accepted to the program at the University of Virginia.
SMDEP is a six-week medical or dental program aimed at showing first and second year premed students what life in medical school is actually like. Institutes are held at 12 universities throughout the country, including Duke, Yale, Columbia and Howard University. Students are provided with free tuition, food, housing and a stipend. The program is highly competitive — in the University of Virginia program only 80 of 700 applicants were selected.
“Basically it’s set up like a real medical or dental school class,” Hanif said. “We had a class of 80 students who had class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout those six weeks. It basically gets you into life as medical student.”
Hanif was the first student from OU to attend the program and the only student from Michigan to attend the University of Virginia program this past year.
“I was proud to represent Michigan and Oakland University,” Hanif said. “It’s just cool because now 79 more people know what OU is and what it’s about. It gets our name out there.”
Students in the program take classes that they would take in medical school, such as biology and chemistry, as well as getting actual clinical experience and attending workshops on the entire process of applying to medical school, surviving medical school and life after graduation.
Workshops included mock medical school interviews and two weeks of work on writing a personal statement, which was crucial to the application.
“You can have the grades and the test scores, but without the personal statement, they won’t hear your voice,” Hanif said. “Many students don’t start writing their personal statement until the year they apply and that’s really a little bit too late to start. The students who are in SMDEP are starting way ahead of everyone, so it’s not an obstacle later on. “
After learning about the admissions process, students are given the opportunity to hear from a variety of specialists.
“We had a whole variety of speakers from the urologists to pediatricians,” Hanif said. “We got to hear what their experiences are like, and then mingle with them and even some shadowing opportunities.”
The students also participated in seminars about health policy and had a day to interact with admissions officers for some of the largest medical schools in the country, including Johns Hopkins, Duke University and Brown University.
“The whole point of SMDEP is to give students a holistic approach to medicine, to show them all the facets and to show you what you can do with your career,” Hanif said.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the program, Hanif said, is that it helps students figure out if the medical field and being a physician is what they really want to do.
“I can definitely say that the program changed my life,” Hanif said.
She currently is a sophomore premed student at OU who plans to focus her future career on promoting quality health care in impoverished countries through an organization like Doctors without Borders or the World Health Organization.
Although the program solidified her decision to become a physician, Hanif said the program is beneficial even if students later decide to pursue a different career.
“If you’re really thinking about a career in medicine, you have to take a lifelong risk to get into that career,” Hanif said. “If you’re just in it for the rewards, such as monetary rewards or fame, it’s not worth it. But if you’re truly passionate about it, then it could be worthwhile to see if the field is for you. It’ll benefit you in the long run.”
Though the chances of landing experiences like this may be slim, Hanif said that students shouldn’t be discouraged.
“It was a big risk for me to apply because I didn’t really know what it was about, I was going to some state I’d never been to — Virginia — by myself,” Hanif said. “Take the risk and apply and even if you change your mind, you’ll know now instead of finding out in your third year of medical school.”
For information on SMDEP, visit www.smdep.org. The deadline is March 1.