Over the past decade, more than 250 black and Hispanic students have participated in a program at Samuel Merritt University designed to support their educational success and increase racial diversity in healthcare.
When they begin their studies, Scholars in Service (SISP) students commit to careers working in medically underserved communities. A recent ceremony honored the accomplishments of the program’s newest graduates.
“The intimate, heartfelt celebration allowed us to celebrate our cultural diversity and encourage us to empower more people of color into nursing and other health care careers,” said 2016 alumna Clarissa Silvestre.
Research has demonstrated that racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services. Increasing the number of underrepresented health professionals is considered critical to reducing health care disparities in urban communities.
“The healthcare profession does not reflect the diversity of California or the nation,” said Ché Abram, SMU’s associate director of Diversity and Inclusion. “Through programs like Scholars in Service, Samuel Merritt University is working to change that.”
The program began in 1996 to recruit and retain underrepresented students of color in the SMU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. It was recently expanded to include students from all of SMU’s academic programs.
As part of their commitment to the program, nearly all of the participants engage in community service.
With the help of federal grants, the students receive scholarships of up to $7,000 based on need and academic performance as well as living stipends and emergency funds for unexpected expenses. To optimize their success, SMU staff and alumni also provide academic support and mentoring.
SMU works with several partners to support the students, including the Oakland-based nonprofit Mentoring in Medicine & Science, Inc., the California Wellness Foundation, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and the National Black Nurses Association.
SMU alumna Eva Reyes Garcia said the Scholars in Service Program helped her succeed through free tutoring, a monthly stipend during her first two semesters, and networking opportunities.
“It also offered me a safe space to express myself and my concerns as a student at SMU,” said Garcia. “I am grateful and feel honored to have been part of this amazing program.”