Pee Dee AHEC has partnered with Francis Marion University to collaborate on a Medical Mentors program, connecting undergraduate biology students with practicing medical professionals to gain real-life experiences in the field.
Health Careers Program Coordinator Subira Smalls serves as the Pee Dee AHEC point of contact for the program and has been involved since its inception.
“The goal is to introduce undergraduate college students to clinical experiences,” said Smalls. “We want them to step into the world of healthcare, by shadowing physicians, nurses and other professionals, and give them a firsthand look at the day-to-day realities of medicine.”
Students in the program are given the opportunity to shadow a variety of healthcare professionals at McLeod Health Regional Medical Center, including physicians, physician assistants (PAs), nurses and other disciplines. Experiences students have been able to witness include surgical procedures like hip replacements, the insertion of vascular stents and lung perfusions.
“It’s really, really neat to be able to help students rule things out too,” said Smalls. “You know, they might find some of the procedures they get to shadow exceptional, but someone else with the same experience might say this isn’t really for me. It’s nice to be able to help them get these experiences early and select what they’re interested in to avoid wasting time and money later in their education and career if it’s not for them.”
Offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled at Francis Marion University as a biology course for credit, the Medical Mentors program has grown and adapted in each of the three semesters it has been offered since spring 2022.
“Initially we had only two students participating and then it grew to 12 in the fall of 2022,” said Smalls. “However, we realized a smaller group allowed for more meaningful interactions, so we scaled it back to eight for our last semester. Eight students seems comfortable for the group and we want them to be able to have and build relationships with the professionals they’re meeting.”
The course spans a semester and students typically gain their shadowing hours on Monday afternoons, with the option to schedule additional visits later in the week if their schedules allow for it. Program participants can also choose to count their hours towards their observation shadow hours that are required if they apply to medical or PA school.
The Medical Mentors program is a collaboration housed under Pee Dee AHEC’s Health Career Program, which works to increase the number of underrepresented minority and disadvantaged high school and college students pursuing a career in health professions across the state. More information about Pee Dee AHEC’s programming can be found on their webpage at www.peedeeahec.net.