Summer Health Education Program Expands Choices for Underrepresented Students

students with SHPEP


Written by Diana Lundell | Executive Communications | Marketing and Communications | University of Iowa Health Care

Denise Martinez says she was four years old when she knew she wanted to be a doctor, and in college she was “secretly pre-med,” because she didn’t really believe she had what it took to get into medical school. It wasn’t until she was chosen for a summer enrichment program that prepares students from underrepresented groups for careers in health care that she let herself believe she could go to medical school.

“The program gave me a ton of hope and confidence,” says Martinez, who got her medical degree and is now a family medicine physician and assistant dean of cultural affairs and diversity initiatives at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Martinez now directs that same program at the UI. The Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), which also takes place at 12 other universities across the nation, aims to strengthen the academic proficiency and career development of students underrepresented in health care to prepare them for success in a broad array of health professions schools. Each program site accepts 80 students for six weeks of free academic and career experiences. On the UI campus, the Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, Public Health, and Pharmacy are collaborating on the program, funded by a $415,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

First- and second-year students at the time of application can participate in the program, and it includes but is not limited to individuals who identify as African American/Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latino, and from communities of socioeconomic and educational disadvantage.

During the six-week program, students learn about the variety of career opportunities available in health care, including job shadowing health care professionals at UI Hospitals and Clinics and other local settings. Each student experiences one basic science course (anatomy/physiology, physics, organic chemistry, or statistics) to expose and prepare them for future enrollment in such courses. Additionally, students have opportunities to improve study skills, understand and learn how to improve health disparities, work in interprofessional teams, and enhance networking skills.

Beyond the educational goals, the program also offers and fosters a social connection for the students that leads to friendships, peer support, and familiarity with UI efforts and resources for cultural diversity and inclusion.

Another bonus of the program is that all UI SHPEP participants receive automatic interviews for admission to the Carver College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, and College of Pharmacy. “Programs like this can open some big doors and provide opportunities to so many people who wouldn’t necessarily have those opportunities, inspiring them to become health professionals,” says Martinez. “This is important to do—not only for the students and their dreams—but to ensure a diverse workforce in future generations of health care providers.”

For more information, visit or call the Carver College of Medicine Office of Cultural Affairs and Diversity Initiatives at 319-384-2952.