Students, faculty and staff representing the UC Prime Pre-Health Pathways Program

The commencement countdown is on across the UCI campus and among this year’s Class of 2024 are a select group of nine Anteaters who will hold the distinction of being the first graduates of the UC PRIME Pre-Health Pathways program (UC3P).

Launched in summer 2023 with a five-year, $3.6 million grant from the California Department of Health Care Access and Information, the program is a critical resource for undergraduates from underserved communities who are interested in pursuing careers in healthcare. UC3P’s first cohort includes 20 Anteaters from diverse majors and backgrounds who, through a competitive review process, were selected for the yearlong intensive training, advising and support program that aims to increase their readiness for medical school.

Paving a new pathway

“Our first year has felt a bit like flying a plane while building it, but the sense of mission that we all feel for our students has really fueled the program,” says program co-lead Belinda Campos, professor and chair of Chicano/Latino studies and a faculty member in the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). “We’ve been wanting to offer this program for many years for a host of reasons – most notably to help more students from underserved communities pave a clearer pathway to a career in medicine – and the experiences of our inaugural scholars are a testament to the value of these efforts.”

Program co-lead John Billimek, associate professor and vice chair for academic affairs in the Department of Family Medicine and co-director of PRIME-LC’s residency track, agrees: “We came into this feeling a little daunted that there is so much work to build a new campuswide program. But the demand for this program from students has been so high, and the support of the campus and the community has been so huge, that the newness of it all gives us a ton of freedom to innovate together. The first year has been amazing, thanks in large part to the leadership of our students. They know what they need, and we work to try to offer that support.” 

For the past year, students have been pursuing hands on research under the guidance and mentorship of the program’s multidisciplinary UCI faculty. The cohort has gained valuable clinical and volunteer skills critical for success in a graduate medical program – like how to obtain readings of cardiovascular activity in the lab, how to conduct studies on the barriers that members of underserved communities face in accessing adequate healthcare services, and how to write effective graduate application statements – all while growing their knowledge base about what a career in healthcare will look like. Collectively, these experiences are designed to help students make more informed decisions about their futures.

The innovative UC3P program is built on the long-standing partnership between PRIME-LC in the School of Medicine and the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies in the School of Social Sciences to train physicians to meet the needs of under-resourced Latino communities. Coupled with additional efforts from the Program in Public Health, the Department of African American Studies in the School of Humanities, the HELIOS lab in the Health Policy Research Institute, the Program in Medical Education Leadership Education to Advance Diversity – African, Black and Caribbean in the School of Medicine and the California Alliance for Minority Participation, the program prepares more underrepresented undergraduates for careers in medicine to serve communities in need.

In addition to Campos and Billimek, faculty co-leads include Dr. Charles Vega, clinical professor of family medicine, assistant dean for culture and community education, and director of PRIME-LC in the School of Medicine; Dr. Candice Taylor Lucas, associate clinical professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Program in Medical Education Leadership Education to Advance Diversity–African, Black and Caribbean; and Ursula Worsham, chief diversity officer and assistant dean of admissions in the School of Medicine. They’re joined by more than a dozen interdisciplinary UCI faculty mentors and subject matter experts who are working to expand underrepresented students’ access to medical school.

Creating community, connections

Among the soon-to-be inaugural graduates is Beatriz Lopez Galeana, psychological science major. She first heard about the program through one of her mentors.

“I was previously a research assistant in a psychophysiology lab and wanted to connect my knowledge to action, so I applied hoping to gain experience in the field of public health,” she says. “I wanted to see how research could be impactful outside of the university as well as get involved with the local community. When I learned that the program had a Community Health track under Alana LeBrón, an associate professor in Chicano/Latino studies and public health who I had been wanting to work with, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity to see a different side of research that accounts for community voices.”

Galeana went into the program hoping to get frontline experience within local communities, “which ended up looking different than I could have imagined,” she says. She built connections with community representatives as a liaison for community-academic partnerships while strategizing for policy change in OC. In other meetings, she reported out on research findings back to those who guided the inquiry. In addition to formal training, one of the most valuable takeaways for her was the community the program helped build.

“I felt that my struggles, achievement, and perspective as a Latine first-generation student were seen,” she says.

Her hard work over the past year has paid off; in the fall, Galeana will be attending UCLA where she’s been accepted into the Master of Social Welfare program on a fellowship that will cover her tuition while also providing her a living stipend.

“I learned what community-driven research should look like, which is something I’ll take with me as I pursue my own career in health equity research,” she says.

Right alongside her will be Andrea Serrano, Chicano/Latino studies and fellow psychological science major, who will also be attending the UCLA program on a fellowship and living stipend award.

“I gained so much through UC3P,” says Serrano. “The program and wonderful people in it taught me how to present myself and that there are so many opportunities out there that are health equity related.”

She applied with the goal of learning more about and engaging in health equity while also hoping to meet people who were interested in the same area. The mentorship focus, which allowed her to work closely with Chicano/Latino studies associate professor Glenda Flores, was also a big draw, and in every area, the program exceeded her expectations.

“Not only was I assigned a mentor, but the rest of the staff also constantly checked in and I felt like I had multiple mentor figures in this program,” she says. “It was great learning about different topics that I know I will continue to use throughout my coming graduate program.”

Other graduates – including majors in developmental and cell biology, biological sciences, social ecology and public health – are applying to give back to the PRIME program as fellows this coming year, waiting on grad school decisions or taking a gap year before applying to medical school.

A bright future

For the program leaders, seeing their students’ successes and readiness to take on health equity and careers in this arena offers proof that the program is hitting its mark.

“We set out to offer a program that would be useful to everyone who wants to be in a health profession,” says Campos. “Seeing the breadth of majors our students represent, the career paths they’re planning to pursue, and their interest in serving underserved communities shows we’re doing a pretty good job at meeting that goal.”

And as the inaugural class prepares to graduate, their time in UC3P and the community they created will continue to serve them far beyond their UCI experience.

“Far and away the most important thing is that our graduates now see themselves in the future professions they are pursuing,” says Billimek. “The community they’ve formed with each other becomes the bedrock for all the work—and all the success—that lies ahead for them.” 

-Heather Ashbach, UCI Social Sciences

connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766