First-Generation Medical Students a Growing Minority

November 6, 2019


The vast majority of medical students who choose careers in healthcare are following in footsteps of parents or other family member who also became doctors. But first-generation students, those who are the trailblazers in their families, are increasing in number and finding success despite unique struggles and without the benefits that their continuing-generation peers enjoy.

First-generation students “are in many ways a minority within medical school,” says Geoffrey Young, PhD, AAMC senior director of student affairs and programs at Stanford School of Medicine, adding that those who beat the odds are a positive contribution to academic medicine and their achievements are to be celebrated. “It’s not a deficit. It’s definitely a strength.”

But even the strongest students need a little help. WOLFPACC offers these three top tips for first-generation medical students braving new waters.

  1. Focus on financial literacy: A 2017 study by the US Department of Education found that a larger percentage of first-generation college students than continuing-generation students came from lower earning households; that is, households making $20,000 or less (27 vs. 6 percent) and $20,001 to $50,000 (50 vs. 23 percent). Unfortunately, this all too often proves a significant barrier. The study found that a higher percentage of first-generation college students (54 percent) than continuing-generation students (45 percent) reported they could not afford to continue going to school as a reason for leaving college without a postsecondary credential. To avoid becoming part of that statistic, make an appointment with your school’s financial aid office to discuss all the options, including the plethora of scholarships available specifically for first-gen medical students.
  2. Get a mentor: Mentors are a must for all medical students who want to maximize their studies. And for first-generation students, it’s recommended that someone who has had the same experience be among your group of mentors. To that end, Mijiza Maláne Sanchez, Stanford’s MPA, EdD, associate dean for the Office of Medical Student Affairs, developed the school’s First Generation Mentorship Program. “Being a first-gen student myself, I know firsthand how challenging it is in higher education, particularly in graduate studies, how hard it is to navigate institutions that weren’t really built or set up for folks like us,” Sanchez told reporters. “You’re always going to need mentorship, and you’re also going to have to continue to mentor. I think it’s our duty to continue to reach down, to lift as we climb.”
  3. Connect: Medical schools and agencies increasingly are doing their part to help first-gen students. The American Medical College Application Service recently established the First Generation College Student Indicator to identify students early on and help them navigate the transition to medical school. North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine launched an initiative asking students to self-identify as first-generation and work alongside staff to create relevant resources and programming. Results include speakers such as a loan officer from a local credit union to help students understand their loan options and first-generation faculty and staff who share their own medical education and career experiences. And, many medical schools have founded student-led programs that plan learning and social events designed to connect first-gen students with each other so that they can share tips and resources or simply find like-minded friends.

If you’re a first-generation medical student looking to maximize your studies and boost your competitive edge, consider enrolling at WOLFPACC for one-one-one tutoring, mentoring and instruction designed to help you ace your COMLEX and USMLE exams on the first try. Call 904-209-3140 to learn more.