Kristina Gonzalez witnessed first-hand the birth of a newborn boy this spring when the high school senior shadowed Brian Hunt, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology at Stony Brook Medicine.
“When I was with him, his patient went into labor and I got to see the baby being born,” said Kristina, who graduated this month from Longwood High School on Long Island. “It was an intense experience. I’d never seen anything like that in real life before and it opened my eyes to the possibility that I could have a career path in labor and delivery.”
Her life-altering experience is the goal of the academic HOPE (Health Occupations Partnership for Excellence) program, which is part of Stony Brook Medicine’s Health Initiative for Underserved Communities. HOPE promotes and fosters the development of promising Long Island high school students from the ethnically and racially diverse districts of Brentwood, Longwood and Wyandanch, and strives to support them in pursuing a college education and future careers in the health-care industry.
Kristina will be majoring in health sciences at Stony Brook University this fall and is considering nursing, midwifery or pre-med.
“One of the main goals of HOPE is to impact disparities in care because there aren’t enough people of color as health-care providers,” said Yvonne Spreckels, director of Stony Brook University Hospital’s Department of Community Relations, who has coordinated the program since 2005. “Students get to see that there are areas of medicine that they may not be exposed to that they can one day be a part of.”
There are 36 students in the September-to-May program who meet 18 to 20 times a year after school. Since 2005, 220 students have enrolled. Of those, there have been 141 HOPE graduates, all who have been accepted into college. Recent graduates have gone on to attend Stony Brook University, as well as SUNY Binghamton, Boston University, Brown University, Cornell University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The two-year program begins with a tour of the campus — for many it’s their first college visit — and includes a meeting with Admissions and a conversation about filling out college applications. The junior year ends with SAT preparation. In 12th grade, students get CPR- and AED-certified. In addition to shadowing Stony Brook faculty, who volunteer for two hours on Tuesdays, they also get to visit the anatomy lab with medical students.
In this lab, Kristina said she held a human heart and lung. “I was overwhelmed with the realization that they had once belonged to a living person, and it made me aware that this is something I can do.”
The chance to meet Stony Brook medical students offers a unique mentoring opportunity. Smelanda Adam, a rising sophomore at SBU who is a 2017 HOPE graduate, said one of the most impactful experiences she had as a Longwood senior was speaking with two residents.
“I had been worried that pursuing the health field would be too stressful. But they sat with me and spoke honestly about medical school and reassured me,” Adam said. “That conversation reinforced my desire to be in the health field.”
Adam is a psychology major who plans to pursue the pre-physician assistant program.
HOPE also teaches important life lessons. There is a strict attendance policy and dress code. The application process is what Spreckels calls a “first crack at a heavy-duty application” as it mimics applying for college, requiring letters of recommendation, an essay, transcript and attendance records and a one-on-one interview with Spreckels.
“The University’s approach to higher learning is the realization that the more we invest in students prior to their arrival on our campus as an undergraduate, the more solid their footing will be and more successful they’ll be as they enter the work world,” Spreckels said.
— Liza Burby