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In October 2022, the PathMaker South Africa pilot program (PMSA), funded by the University of Utah, spent two months in Pretoria, South Africa. The PMSA provided an interactive and extensive cancer research experience to seven medical students from Pretoria. The students had the opportunity to work in various departments at the University of Pretoria Faculty of Health Sciences and at the National Cancer Registry in Johannesburg, South Africa.
This program, led by Kola Okuyemi, MD, MPH, executive director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at Huntsman Cancer Institute, was designed to introduce South African medical students to cancer research and spark interest in potential careers as physician-scientists. Another goal was to increase the retention and participation of Black South African medical students in academic medicine.
“We followed a similar model to the PathMaker program here at Huntsman Cancer Institute,” says Okuyemi. “Different specialists in areas like pathology or basic science worked with the medical students over an eight-week period.”
The feedback from anonymous student surveys was positive. One student wrote, “The activities were very good learning opportunities and informative. I enjoyed pathology and being included in their discussions. I also really enjoyed performing an autopsy and being more hands on.”
Another added, “I did not know what to expect, but it was a positive, exciting, and enjoyable experience for me. It was educational, stimulating, and I was exposed to fields that I never knew existed. I didn’t know much about all the research and was surprised by how many opportunities there are around me.”
A third student noted, “This program has changed my personal career path. It has inspired me to be a clinician-scientist. The connections we have made also give me security that I will be able to access research opportunities and ask for guidance when needed. Thank you for the opportunity. This was an unforgettable experience where I not only made valuable connections with people in the field but also new friends among my colleagues.”
The program is now in in the middle of its second year, having started another eight-week session on October 5, 2023. Huntsman Cancer Institute is actively trying to secure additional funding to expand and sustain the program. Learn more about the different PathMaker programs and how Huntsman Cancer Institute aims to enhance diversity in biomedical and cancer-related research fields.