The High School Global Surgery Summer Program: Inspiring a diverse workforce

In September 2020, I took a leave of absence from my fourth year of medical school at UCSF to complete my Master of Science in Global Health. Although the COVID-19 pandemic precluded international travel for my capstone, remaining stateside provided me with a unique opportunity to fulfill a dream that I’d had since I was in high school.

I grew up in Roseville, California, just outside of Sacramento, and was fortunate to attend a resource-rich school system that afforded me unique educational opportunities. At 16 years old, I was working in an Intensive Care Unit, an experience that solidified my lifelong desire to become a doctor. Once I attended college and learned of other students’ previous career experiences, or lack thereof, I hoped to one day pioneer a program that exposed high school students to a career in health care so that they might be inspired to enter the field as I was.

For my master’s capstone, I decided to address the stark underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in surgery in the United States by creating the UCSF High School Global Surgery Summer Program with my mentor, Dr. Doruk Ozgediz.

The program’s one-week curriculum centered around global health equity and hands-on activities that allowed the students to practice real skills required in the day-to-day life of a perioperative care specialist, such as suturing and intubation. All students in the program were from Bay Area high schools and came from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine, and all the lecturers were also from minority backgrounds.

Each surgeon or anesthesiologist shared with the students their personal journeys to their careers, what a typical day in the life of their profession is like and discussed either a prominent health equity issue in their field or how diversity, equity, and inclusion is being addressed in their field. The final day of the program showcased other careers that are critical to the optimal care of surgical patients, including a surgical technician, a nurse practitioner, a registered dietician and a physical therapy practitioner. 

Participant interviews conducted the week after the program sought feedback on the program and the participants’ perceived facilitators and barriers to a career in surgery or global health. The program reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with students most often speaking of their surprise regarding how much fun they had, how much they learned from the lecturers, and how inspiring it was to see physicians they could identify with who had ascended to such lofty positions within academic surgery and anesthesia.

Students discussed experiences that prompted their desire to enter the healthcare field. These included family members passing away in other countries due to lack of access to timely care and family in the US struggling with language-discordant care. Regarding barriers to entry into the healthcare field, students most often cited financial concerns. However, the resilience, tenacity and excitement in the group regarding future careers in healthcare were palpable throughout the week. In the interviews, some students remarked that they “definitely want to be a surgeon now,” or now felt that they too could be successful in the health care field. Those responses made the program feel like a resounding success. 

As I transition back into medical school and apply to surgical residency, I am grateful to the professionals who took time out of their busy schedules to inspire my cohort of students. And I am thankful for the 20 students in the program. Their drive to improve their communities through equitable healthcare has renewed my hope that the vision of global health equity can one day be achieved.