The University Record, April 22, 2002

First health sciences scholars complete new program

By Colleen Newvine
News and Information Services

First-year U-M students interested in health careers might expect to learn biology and chemistry, and the new Health Sciences Scholars Program (HSSP) supports these students in scientific areas, while helping them to learn about the social, political and economic aspects of health care. Sixty students are completing the inaugural year of the program, in which first-year U-M students live, study and explore possible health care careers together.

Michelle O’Grady, faculty director of the program, says she has seen a whole range of experiences among the first-year students. Some have become more committed to their pre-med career goals, some have chosen to pursue paths in areas they’ve only recently learned about, and one has decided health care isn’t for her. All these outcomes are good, O’Grady says, because the experience helps young people decide what they’d like to do, as well as what they do not want to do, while they’re still early in the education process.

“HSSP showed me the cultural side of medicine and helped me explore different options in the medical field,” says Julie Conley, one of the students involved in the program’s inaugural year. Students who enroll at U-M focused on a particular health career, those curious about health professions or generally interested in helping people can apply to the program.

Once accepted, students learn about the full spectrum of health—from drug development and delivery to vaccinations and disease prevention. They meet and interact with health care providers and faculty from U-M health schools, and discuss the social, political and economic aspects of health care. They find that in addition to becoming medical doctors, they can pursue careers as researchers, policy makers and educators, not to mention physical therapists, nurse practitioners, anesthetists and dentists.

There also is a social and emotional support aspect to the program, which helps first-year students settle into a large, competitive university environment. Participants can draw on help to navigate the resources of U-M, and can take part in study groups with their peers. O’Grady, who also is a lecturer at the School of Nursing, says that giving undergraduates a broader perspective is a critical component not just to improving their educational experience but to improving the medical system.

“It’s not about how cells work. It’s about how people work,” O’Grady says. “If you want to understand heart disease, you need to look at politics and money, too, not just whether a person exercises and what he eats.”

Next fall, 15 of this year’s participants plan to return as peer counselors and 120 new first-year students will move into Mary Markley residence hall to participate. Eventually, the program will grow to include 300 first-year students. U-M has a long tradition of Living/Learning Programs, which integrate the academic and social experiences of students’ lives by clustering students with similar interests to foster programming and social interaction. Some focus on a topic, like Max Kade German Residence Program for students interested in German, while others define themselves by their approach, like the Lloyd Hall Scholars, which aims to bring the best of both a small liberal arts college and a major research university to students.