Leon McCrea II, MD, MPH, is an associate professor in the Department of Family, Community & Preventive Medicine and the director of the Family Medicine Residency program at Drexel University College of Medicine. He also serves as senior associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion. He is director of the Drexel Pathway to Medical School, an innovative one-year master’s degree program focused on helping students who are historically underrepresented in medicine and those who are financially disadvantaged get into medical school.
WHAT IS THE MISSION OF the Drexel Pathway to Medical School (DPMS) program?
Our mission is to help students historically underrepresented in medicine and those who are financially disadvantaged get into medical school. Many students have the passion and intelligence for medicine, but they often get derailed by some of the stringent medical school admissions requirements. Our job is to help them get back on track so they can realize their dream. Some students need to take advanced-level science courses and strengthen their academic skill set. Other students need to improve their MCAT scores, and we provide them with phenomenal MCAT preparation. Our program gives students the opportunity to build the skills they need to get into medical school and thrive.
HOW HAS THE DPMS PROGRAM grown since its inception in 2007?
We started DPMS as a certificate program with 24 students in 2007. It became a full master’s degree program in 2015 and we’ve increased enrollment to 55 students this summer. We’ve done this by targeting students at historically underrepresented schools and other organizations that fit our mission, such as the Latino Medical Student Association and Student National Medical Association. Since 2015, we’ve had 191 students matriculate. About 60% of those students transitioned into medical school over the first five years; most recently, that has increased to 75%.
WHAT HAS CONTRIBUTED TO the success of the DPMS program?
Students often talk about the rigor of the program. The program is rigorous on purpose. We need to give students the skill set necessary not just to survive but to thrive in medical school. They are taking the full first-year medical student course load. This is not an abridged experience. By taking the full course load, they are proving to themselves just how capable they are, so they walk away with confidence and feel empowered to be successful when they transition to medical school.
We’ve increased the rigor of our summertime enrichment program, which helps students develop critical thinking and study skills, introduces them to medical terminology and small-group learning, and helps them prepare for board exams. We also increased the educational support we provide to students, and we provide it to them earlier. We have a Big/Little program that pairs students with alumni of the program, who walk them through the educational process and give them advice based on their own experience. This year, we introduced a mentorship program where students are paired with community physicians from across the country. Currently, we have nearly 40 physician mentors, and we would like to add more. Here are a few student comments we’ve received on the value of mentorship:
"I wouldn’t have been able to get through the program without my mentor."
"My mentor helped me to overcome imposter syndrome."
"When I had a misstep, I was able to get back on track."
"I was inspired to greatness."
"This was the first time I was able to have a personal relationship with a physician and felt that physician had an investment in me."
HOW DO YOU MEASURE the success of the DPMS program?
In addition to matriculation and transition to medical school, we look at the successful graduation of our students and whether they are matching in the specialties they want.
We also look at recruitment. We want to increase the volume of recruits for DPMS. That includes faculty and staff as well as students. For student recruitment, our admissions office has phenomenal connections with pre-med and pre-health advisors at a number of schools across the region as well as historically underrepresented schools. Recruiting faculty and staff is more challenging, but vital to the program. It starts with the students — if we increase the number of underrepresented students going into medicine, there will be more who pursue academic medicine. Hopefully many will stay with Drexel and teach future DPMS students. By focusing on our mission, we’re confident that we will continue to build on our success.
Interview by Nancy West