Discovery Program Summary

DGSOM Discovery is a required component of the M.D. curriculum to provide third-year medical students with a nearly year-long period of protected time for a deep and substantive creative and scholarly experience in an area of their interest. The program encourages the acquisition of attitudes and skills for self-directed, lifelong learning and scholarship. DGSOM Discovery can include enrollment in a concurrent master’s degree program offered at UCLA or participation in the DGSOM Discovery Area of Concentration (AoC) Program.

There are eight DGSOM Discovery AoCs:

  • Basic, Clinical, and Translational Research
  • Global Health
  • Social Science and Medical Humanities
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Health Justice and Advocacy
  • Bioinformatics and Data Science
  • Medical Education and Leadership
  • Health Delivery Improvement Science

You can learn more about the Discovery AoCs on the Heals Curriculum Research Opportunities Catalog.

    Family Medicine and Community Health Fellowship


    This year (2023), the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health is offering student fellowships under the Health Justice and Advocacy AoC. A brief summary of our program can be found below:

    Through this Discovery, students will be engaged in 1) Capacity and skill building, 2) Experiential learning and 3) Scholarly activity culminating in a 4) Capstone experience. Students will be equipped with skills in key competencies in health justice and community advocacy through seminars, faculty tutorials and workshops. Additionally, experiential learning will be offered through clinical exposures in under-resourced settings, including homeless shelters and street sites, as well as community engagement and outreach through health fairs and health educational opportunities.  Medical students are required to complete a health/social justice advocacy scholarly project, with the option to work with faculty mentors on an existing health justice research projects, or to develop their own scholarly research project under the guidance of assigned faculty mentors at DGSOM and Harbor-UCLA. Students will learn about their research area of interest in addition to the fundamentals of Community Based Participatory Research and Community Oriented Primary Care. The required experiences and training will be centered on advocacy domains and learning competencies and will be contextualized in the setting of structural systems (federal, state, and local community) and health equity and justice.

    Students can choose their own track based on individual research interests, such as

             • Behavioral Health                                          • Community Health                               •  Homeless Medicine

    Each student will participant in periodic lectures and didactic sessions on research methods and best practices, and a variety of issues including care of vulnerable populations, trauma-informed care, harm reduction models of care, understanding community organizations, addiction and substance use, HIV prevention, and tools of advocacy and health education. Students will meet one-on-one with their assigned mentor on at least a monthly basis.

    Mentors will help define the student’s project, guide their education within the applicable scholarly area, help set realistic timelines and intermediate goals, and evaluate student’s progress throughout the program. The student projects will be linked to their hands-on experience at one of our clinics or community sites such as

            • Westwood Street Medicine      • St. Francis Center     • Union Rescue Mission     • Pathways to Home                • Center for Behavioral & Addiction Medicine Vine Street Clinic                                                  


    • Understand key issues in underserved communities and health and healthcare disparities on a local, regional, or national level.
    • Discuss strategies in health policy or education that address increased equity and reduce health disparities for underserved and vulnerable populations.
    • To become familiar with service projects, community engagement and participatory research methods so that students can effectively work collaboratively with underserved communities during their career.
    • To become familiar with effective cultural and linguistically appropriate care for underserved patients and communities.
    • To provide students with foundational leadership and advocacy knowledge and skills and familiarize them with different methods of healthcare advocacy for diverse disadvantaged communities.


    We have three faculty mentors participating in the fellowship this year:

    Mary Marfisee, MD, MPH, Assistant Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, Program Director of Community Service Learning, and Faculty Director of the Student Run Homeless Clinics (SRHC). Dr. Marfisee’s focus is on quality improvement and providing barrier-free care in community settings and for persons experiencing homelessness.

    The SRHCs were started in 1989 by Family Medicine at UCLA to provide free medical care to people who are homeless and underserved. The impetus for the SRHC came from medical students who, walking on their way to school through Westwood Village, noticed unhoused people living on the streets with unattended medical needs. They recruited Family Medicine faculty physicians to accompany them out to the streets to provide basic medical care. These weekend and evening outreach clinics quickly expanded to include several sessions per month at various shelters, street sites, and transitional settings around the Los Angeles area.

    The SRHC is a student-managed community service learning program. Many SRHC projects have originated from student initiatives, including the Happy Feet free footcare clinics, Bruin Shelter, adult and pediatric immunization events, and collaborations with UCLA dental and ophthalmology.

    Through SRHC, many generations of medical students have gained managerial and advanced assessment skills while developing unwavering advocacy for the underserved. Above all, our SRHC program graduates move on with a great compassion for people experiencing homelessness.

    Jyoti Puvvula, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, Co-Director of Community Medicine, and Community Health Fellowship Director.

    Dr. Puvvula directed the Summer Urban Health Fellowship where students conduct community-based partnered research with marginalized populations. Students also have the opportunity to mentor pre-medical students. Working in teams, students learn about health care disparities and issues facing our underserved and marginalized communities. They learn the fundamentals of community based research, health policy and advocacy, provide health education talks to the community, and plan and implement two community health fairs. 

    Steven Shoptaw, PhD, Professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Vice Chair for Research in Family Medicine and Community Health, and Director of the Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine (CBAM).

    Dr. Shoptaw conducts a portfolio of research that focuses on the medical treatment of addiction and of HIV prevention in the context of addiction. The research Dr. Shoptaw conducts is translational, meaning he works with basic science researchers and with clinicians to study the ways that drugs of abuse, especially methamphetamine, affects biological processes relevant to HIV transmission.

    Dr. Shoptaw energetically maintains research, clinical and policy efforts to bring novel and high impact solutions to delivering culturally competent care for persons affected by addictions and HIV. This often means developing innovative solutions that address consistent barriers to accessing structural and social determinants of health faced by people living with these interwoven health problems. These solutions have ranged from developing housing solutions for homeless persons living with HIV and concomitant substance use or mental health disorder (Safe House) to evaluating the impact of using a mobile medical unit to initiate and maintain medications for opioid use disorder for persons who inject opioids and are living with HIV in 5 U.S. cities (HPTN 094). Dr. Shoptaw is active within the Los Angeles County area in working with policymakers, scientists and agency leaders to develop and evaluate initiatives to optimize impacts of HIV prevention and addiction investments. In addition to his extensive research portfolio, Dr. Shoptaw maintains a limited clinical psychology practice at UCLA, treating patients with severe substance use and mental health disorders.


    Students interested in participating in the Family Medicine and Community Health Discovery Fellowship should submit an application, essay, and current CV to Barbara Zolkin, 310-825-1048 by 5pm on April 6, 2023 More details can be found on the application form.


    Applications to the Family Medicine and Community Health Discovery Fellowship are due by 5pm on April 6, 2023. Students will likely be contacted in early April 2023 to confirm acceptance and receive their faculty mentor assignment. Students will then schedule a time to meet with their mentor where both parties will complete/sign the Discovery Mentorship Agreement Form, which is due April 30, 2023.

    The 2023 Discovery Year Mentorship program dates are September 2023 through June 2024.  There will be a poster fair at the end of the program where students will be required to present their projects. Event details will be announced closer to the event, but it will likely be held in early June 2024.