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New Catalyst Initiative Supports Pre-Health Students

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"I've been wrestling with my path toward the medical field. The concerns about paying for school, not knowing the application process, or even the right questions to ask have been overwhelming," said Yomyra Villatoro, an undergraduate pre-medical student in the Public Health Science (PHSC) program at the University of Maryland.

Many students interested in the pre-health professions face similar challenges. Enter the Catalyst Initiative, a transformative program designed to bridge this gap. The initiative aims to address common struggles of students aspiring to enter healthcare professions, with a particular focus on underrepresented minority and first-generation students, providing a supportive structure to navigate challenges and uncertainties.

Developed and managed by the undergraduate program in Public Health Science (PHSC) at the School of Public Health, the Catalyst Initiative offers a series of seminars and educational programs to equip students with industry knowledge, guidance on the application process, essential skills, and the support of a community of professional mentors.

"When I aspired to attend medical school, concerns from my parents emerged that I would be too much of an outlier,” said Dr. Barbara Alving, PHSC founding director. “Every student grapples with individual barriers—whether it's the perception of financial burden, time, or self-doubt about academic ability.

The Catalyst Initiative endeavors to go beyond advice, providing a nurturing community for students...

Dr. Barbara Alving PHSC Founding Director

“The Catalyst Initiative aims to eliminate these internal obstacles, instilling the belief that 'I can do something about it,'” Alving said. “It is focused on dismantling barriers in accessing post-graduate experience, recognizing the invaluable experience and expertise of each student. While financial challenges may arise, the initiative encourages students to build their own portfolio of aid, acknowledging that there's no single path to securing financial assistance. In this program, it's more than just sharing guidance; it's about creating a communal space, akin to a supportive book club, where students exchange notes and experiences. The Catalyst Initiative endeavors to go beyond advice, providing a nurturing community for students to conquer obstacles, share insights, and lay the groundwork for a successful future in healthcare."

Alving and her husband, Dr. Carl Alving, provided the initial funding for the Catalyst Initiative, which they see as a first step toward advancing education and healthcare, especially for students from underserved communities.

Villatoro can’t wait to get started. "I've always dreamt of becoming a doctor, especially after seeing chronic conditions in my community while growing up in Prince George’s county,” she said. “Being in a minority, there aren't many women or Latino physicians to look up to—only about 7% of physicians are Latino….I need role models to look up to. That's why I applied to this program; I'm excited about the opportunity to have proper guidance and advice that will help me achieve my goals and contribute to my community."

The Catalyst Initiative will launch this Spring 2024 with a cohort of 75 students, 66 percent of whom identify as a racial minority. To learn more about the program, please contact Kristin Cipriani.

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