UPenn Is Partnering With Five HBCUs To Attract Diverse Students To Its Medical School

Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) has expanded a medical school pathway program in May to increase diversity among physicians by partnering with five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The Penn Access Summer Scholars (PASS) Program, launched in 2008, is an opportunity for underrepresented students in medicine to experience the medical school environment and prepare to matriculate into medical school. The program will now officially include Howard University, Morehouse College, Oakwood University, Spelman College and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Dr. Horace DeLisser, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at PSOM, told The Plug he has been working to expand the program to HBCUs for the past six years. DeLisser has traveled to the five schools, developing contacts and giving presentations to premedical students to get UPenn on their radar. Students from the five HBCUs have been enrolling in the PASS Program for the past two years, but the partnership was formally announced in May after the commitments were finalized and put in writing.   

“I would go to the various schools and give talks about doing a gap year, getting into a top tier institution and dealing with some of the myths about getting into medical school,” Dr. DeLisser said. “Regardless of whether or not they were going to go to UPenn; hopefully, I was helping their students in general, become more competitive for medical school.” 

Students enrolled in PASS spend the summers after their sophomore and junior years conducting research, shadowing physicians, visiting student-led community clinics and participating in a variety of enrichment experiences, while forging relationships with peers, staff and faculty mentors. 

PASS students who meet PSOM’s requirements are offered linkage admission to the medical school without an MCAT requirement upon the approval of the PSOM’s admissions committee, according to a Penn Medicine press release.

Students enrolled in the PASS Program receive a $4,000 stipend for the summer and have their housing covered by UPennn, DeLisser said. Funding for this program comes from donor support, institutional funds and National Institutes of Health grants.

With the HBCU expansion, nine universities are now part of the PASS Program. Each summer, 10 students are selected for the two-year program — one student from each school as well as a tenth student from whichever school has the most competitive applicants. PASS has also expanded the program with an M.D. Ph.D. track. There are two additional slots for this track which are selected from the nine partner schools.

Eighty-six students in total have participated in PASS since its inception. There are currently 21 students enrolled from both cohorts of the program, 11 of which are from HBCUs. Seventy-eight percent of students who completed the PASS program ended up enrolling at PSOM.

Three of the HBCUs in the expanded partnership have medical schools in their backyard. Howard has its own College of Medicine, while Morehouse and Spelman students have the Morehouse School of Medicine right next door. 

Xavier University announced in April that it is entering the planning phase to establish a Graduate School of Health Sciences and Medical School. At this time, PSOM does not plan to collaborate with the historically Black medical schools, DeLisser said.

Xavier and Howard are the top two universities in the country when it comes to sending Black students to medical school, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Xavier was interested in joining the PASS Program to continue providing opportunities to its pre-med students.

“Each student is different and has different needs, goals and dreams. During Xavier’s 2021-2022 academic year, there were over 1600 students being advised by the Premedical Office at Xavier, most of whom expressed an interest in medical school,” Quo Vadis Webster, the director of premed programs at Xavier University of Louisiana, told The Plug. 

“To this end, PSOM via PASS and Xavier’s future Graduate School of Health Sciences and Medical School will be worthy contenders for countless Xavierites who have been called to serve and heal,” Webster said.

In addition to racial diversity, partnering with the HBCUs also helps the University of Pennsylvania diversify its medical school in terms of regional diversity. UPenn tends to attract students that come from schools in the Northeast, particularly Ivy Leagues, DeLisser said.

“It’s really about having even more richness to the diversity of the students that we have,” DeLisser said. “Students can still apply to Penn the regular way, so PASS also helps to publicize Penn to the students there in general. That further diversifies the pool of applicants who come through the typical process.”

Alesia Bani

Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.
Contact: alesia@tpinsights.com