PHILADELPHIA—For first-year Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) student Bryson Houston, the Penn Access Summer Scholars (PASS) Program helped solidify his passion for medicine and grow a supportive network. Through PASS, in 2019 and 2020 the Morehouse College biology major spent his summers immersed in health services research to understand correlations between physical activity levels for dementia patients and analyze communication between providers and patients with congestive heart failure. Today, more students like Houston will have the opportunity to pursue a future in medicine through an expanded partnership between PSOM and five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), in an effort by Penn to increase the number of physicians from groups underrepresented in medicine (URiM).
PASS, launched in 2008, is a pathway program for URiM students to experience the medical school environment firsthand while building supportive networks. The selective program provides two summers of research for students with a goal of preparing them to matriculate into medical school. In addition to conducting research, PASS students shadow physicians, visit student-led community clinics, and participate in a variety of enrichment experiences that prepare them for the transition to medical school, foster their professional development, and cultivate supportive relationships with their peers, staff, and faculty mentors.
Originally for students enrolled at Haverford College, Princeton University, Penn, and more recently Bryn Mawr College, the program has now officially broadened to include Howard University, Morehouse College, Oakwood University, Spelman College, and Xavier University of Louisiana.
“As the first medical school in the nation, and one that continues to shape the future of medicine, we are dedicated to attracting and training a diverse group of talented future physicians. The transformative PASS Program is a vital part of those efforts,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of PSOM.
The program helps students build additional inroads as well. PASS students who meet PSOM’s academic and professional requirements, are offered linkage admission to the medical school, without an MCAT requirement, and upon review and approval by PSOM’s admissions committee. Since its inception, 86 students have participated in the program, and 21 are currently enrolled. Significantly, 89 percent of students (58) who have completed PASS, have attended or are attending medical school, with 78 percent (51) enrolling at PSOM. There are currently 28 students across all four years enrolled at PSOM who matriculated through the PASS Program, 13 of which are students from HBCUs.
“The PASS Program provides a powerful, invaluable experience for URiM undergraduates — engaging students with each other and faculty, and connecting them to research activities as they begin their journeys toward medical careers,” said Suzanne Rose, MD, MSEd, senior vice dean for Medical Education at PSOM. “Innovative, proven programs like PASS can help increase diversity among our future physicians.”
Penn has a longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The PASS Program is one element of PSOM’s broader efforts to promote and recruit a diverse, representative student body, including students from racial and ethnic minority groups, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and first-generation and low-income students.
“PASS is not just about improving numbers, but empowering the education we provide and enriching the medical school experience for all of our students. It also contributes to the diversification of the workforce, which ultimately translates to more physicians of color in practice, which over time may help to mitigate racial disparities in medicine,” said Horace DeLisser, MD, associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion at PSOM. “Providing opportunities for URiM students of today is imperative if we are to build a future of health equity.”
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.
The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.