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Making space for underrepresented students in population health

Stanford Medicine researchers have launched a program to address the lack of diversity in population health sciences.

Over the summer, one dozen aspiring population health researchers -- college students from around the country who are underrepresented in the field -- worked with faculty mentors at Stanford Medicine to design and carry out research projects focused on topics such as ovarian cancer outcomes in Black women.

Together they formed the first cohort of students to participate in the Advancing Health Equity and Diversity program.

David Rehkopf, an associate professor of medicine and of epidemiology and population health who helps lead the program, said it was designed help address the lack of diversity in population health sciences -- and to generate enthusiasm for the field.

"We wanted to show the students what it is like, on a daily basis, to do population health research and why we have a passion for it so they can see if it is a path they want to take," said Rehkopf, who mentored two program scholars. "We don't want lack of knowledge, exposure or access to be a barrier to becoming an academic researcher."

The students took courses in population and public health, research study design, statistics, statistical programming and community engagement, and launched research projects that explored issues such as the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care for the Latino community. At the end of the eight-week program, they presented their findings at conferences -- held virtually, like the rest of the program, because of the pandemic.

Charles Yellow Horse, an Air Force veteran who grew up on a Navajo reservation, said the program helped him better understand the research process and improve his research skills, and solidified his decision to pursue a graduate degree in public health.

"It also helped me to be more self-confident that my voice matters and that I belong in the field of health sciences," said Yellow Horse, a senior at Arizona State University.

He was one of four scholars who talked about their experiences in the new program in a recent article published in Stanford Report.

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