Pipeline Programs Supporting Underrepresented Pre-Health Students

Pipeline Programs Supporting Underrepresented Pre-Health Students

Lillian R. Sims, Carol L. Elam, Joslyn D. Isaac, Jane F. Mbeng Ako, Ima M. Ebong
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5969-0.ch018
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A diverse health professions workforce is critical to healthcare access and quality, but nurturing interest and recruiting students from underrepresented backgrounds into health science careers remain a challenge. Pipeline programs commonly target students who are underrepresented in health professions, including those from racially and ethnically minoritized groups as well as those from rural areas, low socioeconomic backgrounds, first-generation college students, and other marginalized subgroups. The work of a variety of institutions in developing pipeline programs provides many successful models for enhancing diversity in health professions programs. This chapter describes the roles institutions and pre-health advisors can play in connecting underrepresented pre-health students with well-designed pipeline programs.
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A diverse workforce is critical to ensuring the delivery of high-quality healthcare (Association of American Medical Colleges [AAMC], 2019; Gomez & Bernet, 2019). A key component of a diverse healthcare workforce is inclusion of those who are considered underrepresented in healthcare professions. By definition, underrepresented status refers to those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in a health profession relative to their numbers in the general population (AAMC, n.d.), and can be used to refer to students from other minoritized groups as well.

For decades, research has documented unequal access to and underrepresentation in health professions and other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields (Fry et al., 2021; Harley, 2006; Magnus & Mick, 2000; Marksbury, 2017; Mathers & Parry, 2009; National Science Board, 2018; Saha et al., 2008, Smith et al., 2009). Underrepresented students who aspire to enter health professions can face additional unique obstacles (Grace, 2017; Holley, 2013; Stephenson-Hunter et al., 2021). For many marginalized students, a lack of representation may influence career aspirations, as it can be hard to imagine oneself in a career with limited exposure to the field (Edelman, 2015; Southgate et al., 2015). Other barriers to health professions include insufficient academic preparedness, a lack of role models or mentorship from professionals of the potential student’s race, ethnicity, or cultural background, insufficient access to advising, challenging and expensive admissions requirements and processes, and ultimately the high cost of professional school education (Agbonile, 2019; Marksbury, 2017; Roche et al., 2021).

A key strategy to enable more diverse students to enter health professions is the use of “pipeline” programs (Gardner, 2018). This term is used widely and can refer to efforts at any level of education, most frequently targeting high school or college students, to help members of underrepresented groups enter STEM fields (Katz et al., 2016). Undergraduate pre-health advisors can benefit from an awareness of pipeline programs, how institutions structure such programs, and how to help students identify potential programs which can be of benefit to them in career exploration and preparation. This chapter includes an overview of the concept of pipeline programs; a closer look at typical structures of institutional pipeline programs which are available to many undergraduates; and a guide to suggested factors for advisors and students to consider when identifying and selecting potential pipeline programs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

URM: Officially refers to students who are Underrepresented in Medicine, including certain racial and ethnic populations. In some cases, this term is used more generally in reference to other often underrepresented groups, such as low-SES or rural students. Sometimes written as URiM. Note that URM is profession-specific, as underrepresented groups can vary by field, hence the use of the broader term “underrepresented” when this paper referred to other health professions or all health professions. Another caveat: in older research and some current research, “URM” can be used instead to designed “underrepresented minorities” in any field or context.

Pipeline Program: An initiative that seeks to improve diversity or recruitment for a specific program, profession, or area of study.

Low-SES: Refers in this context to students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. Sometimes referred to as low income.

STEM: Refers collectively to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

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