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Explore MED Program Helps undergraduates Prepare for Healthcare Careers

Many undergraduates interested in science think about a career in healthcare. But, those who take part in Explore MED at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) discover what is involved in both preparing for and working in the field.

Since Explore MED began in 2014, students from colleges near and far, at various stages of their undergraduate education, have been able to come to KGI for two weeks each summer. They shadow healthcare professionals, visit Los Angeles-area medical and healthcare graduate programs, and learn how to prepare for successful admission to the program of their choice. They can also take part in weekend activities that include touring the sights and neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Program participants spend up to 25 hours at clinical sites observing physicians in a variety of specialties—podiatry, orthopedics, pediatrics, pulmonary medicine, and others—as well as healthcare professionals such as dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, physician assistants, occupational therapists, and veterinarians. Field trips to the University of Southern California, UC Riverside, Western University of Health Sciences, Marshall B. Ketchum University, and KGI’s own School of Pharmacy help them learn about different schools and types of healthcare programs.

“We immerse students in the healthcare environment and give them a realistic understanding of what it means to go down this career path, said Joon Kim, the director of KGI’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Certificate (PPC) program. “They come away with a greater sense of their options and become much more self-aware.” Kim, along with the PPC program’s assistant director Elba Muñoz, also oversees Explore MED.

On campus at KGI, the students receive individualized advising and attend admission workshops covering topics such as personal statements and interviews. “We demystify the admission process,” Kim continued. “We break it down into steps so they can begin to piece together their narratives and articulate what they’ve done, and, more importantly, how it impacted them and what they learned.”

Justin Streeter came to Explore MED in 2017 as a molecular biology major entering his junior year at Chaminade University in Hawaii. He was considering a career in podiatry, cardiology, or orthopedics. “Everything was amazing,” he said of his time in the program. “Something specific I learned is that applying to medical school is very strategic—the timing, how you ask for recommendations, how you present yourself. Touring different medical schools was also an eye-opening experience. Hearing the administrators talk about applications and requirements made medical school seem more attainable.”

Rachel Arakawa, a classmate of Justin’s at Chaminade, is majoring in biology and has an interest in emergency medicine. For Rachel, the shadowing portion of the program was the standout. “I was able to look at different kinds of medical professions and figure out if it’s really what I want to do,” she explained. “It made me feel that going into medicine would be a good career for me.”

Just starting her sophomore year, Arakawa also left Explore MED with a clearer understanding of her next steps toward achieving this goal: “I’ll probably look at medical schools earlier than I’d thought, and also look into doing other volunteer and shadowing programs.”

Having confirmed their desire to become physicians, Streeter and Arakawa hope to one day follow the path of another Explore MED participant from their university. Emma Smith, who attended the program in 2014, begins medical school this fall.

This is only one of the positive outcomes for past program participants. Kim noted that two students from Pepperdine University formed a campus club for others interested in becoming a physician assistant after discovering the profession through Explore MED.

And, for recent participant Abrar Al-Maghribi, Explore MED started a path back to KGI—first to complete the PPC program, and this year, to earn a Master of Science degree and submit an application for medical school.