Dr. Miguel Escanelle has always loved science.
As a primary school student in Cuba, he remembers excelling in his science and math courses, while struggling with Spanish. When he was 9 years old, his father left Cuba for the Dominican Republic and he and his mother were left alone.
After her mother lost her job teaching Special Education, they applied for asylum, waited a year for a visa, and came to Homestead during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She was 15 years old and entered Coral Gables High School midway through her sophomore year. , where he remained until graduation.
He then enrolled in Miami Dade College (MDC), where he studied Physics and Engineering, believing that the University of Miami was a dream school intended only for people with money. He earned his associate’s degree from MDC; In 2013, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Physics at Florida International University (FIU).
Now Escanelle, 32, is a resident cardiac anesthetist with a medical degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The credit to the Medical Scholars Program, a University of Miami (UM) summer program that prepares underprivileged students for medical school, is that it provided him with the support system he needed to succeed.
If it wasn’t for the show, he says, he probably would have become an engineer. At one point in his education, his counselor even suggested that he become a general contractor, something he had never been interested in.
Partnership between UM and MDC
Earlier this month, Miami Dade College at UM announced that they would create a new partnership aimed at ensuring that more MDC students can participate in the Medical Scholars summer program. The School of Medicine and MDC have signed an agreement that guarantees a place for qualified MDC students in the Medical Scholars program.
The program accepts about 120 students each year and is free. The program orients students and helps them with scholarship applications, housing, meals, and transportation stipends. Students apply by writing a personal statement and submitting their transcripts and letters of recommendation.
Dr. Henri Ford, dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, says he hopes the program will change the face of medicine and be a step toward greater health equity.
“This program is the hope for the future; it is essential to the community,” she said.
Medical Scholars live in the University of Miami Coral Gables residence halls and take rigorous coursework at the School of Medicine, which is close to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Escanelle remembers having studied Immunology, Biochemistry, Physiology and Bioethics.
The program is rigorous, and students “have to be willing to make that contract with themselves,” Escanelle said.
Even after going through the program, Escanelle had a moment of doubt. Attending medical school and achieving her dream of becoming a doctor would mean attending 14 years of school, including her undergraduate studies, during which time she could be earning money to support her mother.
Dr. Nanette Vega, Associate Professor of Medical Education and Associate Dean of the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the School of Medicine, encouraged Escanelle to persevere. She offered him a summer job in her office to prepare students for the MCAT, the exams needed to attend medical school, to encourage Escanelle to stay true to her dream of being an anesthesiologist.
“There were a lot of times when I thought I might give up, and I found support,” Escanelle said.
According to the Association of American Medical Schools, by 2034 a shortage of between 37,000 and 124,000 physicians is projected nationwide. The shortage is most pronounced among black and Hispanic doctors. In 2019, just under 6% of US physicians identified as Hispanic, and just 5% identified as black, according to association data.
“These are statistics that we need to change,” Ford said.
Students in the Medical Scholars program often tell Vega, “This is the first time I’ve met a black doctor or a female doctor,” she said. When a student from Colombia embarrassed by her accent, Vega assured her that she would be an asset in the medical profession.
Shortly after, the student used her Spanish to reassure a Spanish-speaking patient while accompanying a doctor who spoke only English.
“The biggest thing the show did for me is make me see that it was possible, and it also showed me what it was going to take to get there,” Escanelle said.
Comfort level with a doctor who speaks your language
Studies show that having a doctor who is the same race as the patient or speaks the same language means the patient is more likely to accept preventive care. However, only 23% of Hispanic patients said their health care provider spoke to them in their preferred language, according to a 2021 health reform tracking survey.
“I can’t say how many times I’ve walked into a patient’s room and they’re scared. They do not speak English. But when I communicate with them in Spanish, they feel much more comfortable and open up. They go into the operating room knowing that there are people who look like them and who will support them,” Escanelle said.
Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College, said the program will change the trajectory of people’s lives.
60% of Miami high school graduates who attend college enroll in Miami Dade College, and she is happy that the door for them to attend Medical School is now easier to open.
At the association’s recent launch, Escanelle apologized to the crowd for not having prepared a speech, having just gotten off a 16-hour shift at Jackson Memorial.
He joked about switching from physics to medicine because “he likes talking to people, not machines.”
But then he turned to the Miami Dade Honors College students who attend the program and told them they are just as deserving, if not more so, than other medical school students.
“If I did it, all of you can do it,” he said. “For me, this is personal. When I see these students, I see myself.”