Dr. Miguel Escanele has always loved science.
As an elementary school student in Cuba, he recalls excelling in his science and math courses while struggling with Spanish. When he was 9 years old, his father left Cuba for the Dominican Republic and he and his mother were left alone.
After her mother lost her job as a special education teacher, they applied for asylum, waited a year for visas, and came to Homestead during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She was 15 and entered Coral Gables High School in the middle of your second year. where he remains until his graduation.
He then enrolled at Miami Dade College (MDC), where he studied physics and engineering, believing that the University of Miami was a dream school meant only for people with money. He received his associate degree from MDC; in 2013 he completed his BA in Physics at Florida International University (FIU).
Now Escanel, 32, is a resident cardiac anesthesiologist with a medical degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He credits the Medical Scholars Program, a University of Miami (UM) summer program that prepares underprivileged students for medical school, with providing him with the support system he needed to succeed.
If it weren’t for the show, he says, he probably would have become an engineer. At one point in his studies, his advisor even suggested that he become a general contractor, something he was never interested in doing.
A partnership between UM and MDC
Earlier this month, Miami Dade College at UM announced it will create a new partnership aimed at ensuring more MDC students can participate in the Medical Scholars Summer Program. The School of Medicine and MDC have signed an agreement that guarantees a place for qualified MDC students in the Medical Scholars Program.
The program accepts about 120 students each year and is free of charge. The program guides students and helps them apply for scholarships, housing, food and transportation grants. Students apply by writing a personal statement and submitting their transcripts and letters of recommendation.
Dr. Henry Ford, dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, says he hopes the program will change the face of medicine and be a step toward greater equity in health care.
“This program is the hope for the future; it’s essential to the community,” he said.
Medical scholars live in University of Miami Coral Gables residence halls and undergo rigorous coursework at the School of Medicine, which is near Jackson Memorial Hospital. Escanel recalls studying immunology, biochemistry, physiology and bioethics.
The program is rigorous, and students “have to be willing to make that contract with themselves,” Escanele said.
Even after going through the program, Escanelle had a moment of doubt. Attending medical school and achieving her dream of becoming a doctor would mean attending 14 years of school, including her undergraduate studies, during which she could earn money to support her mother.
Dr. Nanette Vega, associate professor of medical education and associate dean of the School of Medicine’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, encouraged Escanelle to persevere. He offered her a summer job in his office to prepare students for the MCAT, the exams required to attend medical school, to encourage Escanele to stay true to her dream of being an anesthesiologist.
“There were many times when I thought I could give up, and I found support,” Escanel said.
According to the Association of American Medical Schools, by 2034 there is projected to be a shortage of between 37,000 and 124,000 physicians nationwide. The shortage is most pronounced among black and Latino physicians. In 2019, just under 6 percent of U.S. physicians identified as Hispanic, and just 5 percent identified as black, according to the association.
“These are statistics that we need to change,” Ford said.
Students in the medical scientist program often tell Vega, “This is the first time I’ve met a black doctor or a female doctor,” she said. When a student from Columbia embarrassed by her accent, Vega assured her that she would be an asset in the medical profession.
Shortly after, the student uses her Spanish to calm a Spanish-speaking patient while accompanying a doctor who only speaks English.
“The biggest thing the show did for me was make me see that it was possible and also show me what it would take to get there,” Escanel said.
Comfort level with a doctor who speaks your language
Studies show that having a doctor who is of the same race as the patient or speaks the same language means that the patient is more likely to accept preventive care. However, only 23 percent of Latino patients said their health care provider spoke to them in their preferred language, according to a 2021 Health Reform Tracker survey.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a patient’s room and they’ve been scared. They don’t speak English. But when I communicate with them in Spanish, they feel much more comfortable and open. They walk into the operating room knowing that there are people who look like them and who will support them,” Escanel said.
Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College, said the program will change the trajectory of people’s lives.
60% of Miami High School graduates who attend college enroll at Miami Dade College, and she is happy that the door for them to attend medical school is now easier to open.
At the association’s recent opening, Escanelle apologized to the crowd for not having a speech prepared because he had just gotten off a 16-hour shift at Jackson Memorial.
He joked that he switched from physics to medicine because he “likes talking to people, not machines.”
But then he turned to the Miami Dade Honors College students attending the program and told them they deserve just as much, if not more, than other medical students.
“If I’ve done it, you all can do it,” he said. “For me, it’s personal. When I see these students, I see myself.”