Under the Knife: M.A.P.S. aims to surpass health education disparities, obstacles

The Minority Association for Pre-Health Students is leading a two-pronged attack on health care, educating people about disparities among minority groups and preparing minority students for careers in the field.

“There are gaps in health care not just among minorities, but people of lower income classes and different cultures,” said psychology major and biology minor junior Sana Shakeel.

“There are also problems with doctors not understanding cultural backgrounds,” she said. “Cultural and language barriers are a difficult issue in health care as well.” Shakeel said that issues like those are what M.A.P.S. tries to tackle.

M.A.P.S. is a pipeline program that exists under University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry and its chapter of the Student National Medical Association. The SNMA seeks to increase the number of minorities that enter health professions while also increasing awareness of health care disparities.

Founded in 2006, M.A.P.S. brings speakers to campus, sends members to conferences and discussions at other universities and provides networking and opportunities for members to get familiar with the health care establishment.

“We have a wide range of doctors who come in and give talks and lectures,” said junior biology major and geography minor Priya Patel.

Patel said that, in this semester alone, M.A.P.S. hosted a doctor who worked with the Peace Corps, a health care professional who helped design and now prepares students for the Medical College Admission Test and a pediatrician who worked in Geneseo for 35 years and now does administrative work with nearby hospitals and care centers.

Some minority students face an extra set of hurdles in addition to the rigorous course of study that most pre-health fields – such as medicine, pharmacy or dentistry – require. Shakeel related a story about a member of M.A.P.S. of Kenyan descent who wanted to attend medical school but struggled with not being a native English speaker.

“Part of what M.A.P.S. does is convince students that you don’t have to be the exact recipe of the traditional students,” she said. “There are many other routes you can take.” While M.A.P.S.’s enthusiastic members make it what it is, the group receives a lot of support from Access Opportunity Programs.

“AOP helped greatly in terms of conference planning and figuring out transportation,” Shakeel said. “Anytime we needed help, AOP was there to back us up.”

Despite the difficulties that might be unique to some minority pre-health students, M.A.P.S. members are doing their part to both raise awareness about those difficulties and to make the field of health care more accessible for patients and potential professionals alike. Shakeel and Patel said that anyone is free to join.

“We’ve seen huge growth not just in terms of members but also in the interest of doctors, the speakers who come,” Shakeel said. “We’re trying to provide a forum where people can talk to each other about classes, careers and stress.”