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Paging all doctors: Health students study at SFSU

July 2, 2003

Science teacher Stan DeBella had a rapt audience as he lectured on a hot topic. Photo of HealthPath student working in a science lab

“So what test did investigators use to determine if Scott Peterson was the father of the child found in the San Francisco Bay?” he asked, referring to the highly publicized case of murdered Modesto woman Laci Peterson and her unborn son.

“DNA,” replied the class of 20 incoming freshmen sitting in an SFSU science lab.

DeBella’s recent in-depth lesson on DNA separation techniques and a lab experiment on gel electrophoresis helped excite the soon-to-be college freshmen who never thought much about science. Now they’re dreaming of careers where health and medicine take center stage.

For the third consecutive year, students from SFSU and City College of San Francisco are taking part in HealthPath, a unique program spearheaded by counseling Professor Amy Hittner and biology Professor Barry Rothman that maps out for students what’s needed to land jobs as doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, dieticians and dentists.

The program is primarily aimed at high school and college students from economically and educationally disadvantaged Bay Area neighborhoods who might never consider health provider jobs. The goal: Train those students for health careers and encourage them to someday practice in the communities where they now live.

”We want to create a connection between academics and careers,” said Hittner. “We want to show students that the science they study in college will help them after they graduate.”

With an aging population and an increase of Americans suffering from such illnesses as heart disease and diabetes, the demand for medical professionals continues to grow, especially from underrepresented groups.

Thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 55 students are spending six weeks on campus enrolled in preparatory science classes that will give them a jump start for the fall semester. While they don’t earn college credit, they’re armed with the language and background needed to succeed in such heavy-duty courses as organic chemistry, physics and human anatomy.

In addition to the prep classes, students hear from doctors and other health and science professionals on how to break into the field. Some participants put in hours at health-related internships. In addition, all students work in small groups to research a disease that they later present to their classmates through a PowerPoint lecture.

Selected as participants from letters of recommendation, an essay and other personal statements, the students receive a $1,800 stipend to attend the summer session, which helps pay for living expenses. With students in classes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday from the middle of June through July 25, there is little time for work.

“This is a great program and I know it will help me in the future as I choose a career,” said Jinsoo Lim-Meyer, who lives in Fairfield and in the fall will be a freshman at SFSU. “I love it.”

HealthPath’s summer program involves only a fraction of the students and parents who participate during the academic year. With more than 300 participants ranging from middle school to the University level, counseling and other activities focused on health and science careers are held for students and their families.

In addition, HealthPath counselors, in collaboration with the schools of dentistry and pharmacy at University of California, San Francisco, also work with post-baccalaureate students preparing to take entrance exams for medical or dental school.

-- Christina Holmes


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Last modified July 2, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs