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

Family Medicine Discovery Year Program


The Department of Family Medicine Discovery Year Program 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

         • Primary Care Workforce                                • Diabetes and Chronic Conditions         


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 may 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.

Some Highlights and Notes:

  • Submit abstract to Annual UCLA-Affiliated Multi-campus Family Medicine Research Day (May 2025), and present results in a poster. 
  • Attend family medicine discovery program seminars 
  • Optional: Participate in drafting manuscript(s) for submission to peer-reviewed medical journals, submit abstract to national or local primary care meeting, and participate in community engagement and outreach activities (e.g. health fairs, health ed opportunities)
  • Meet DGSOM Discovery Requirements: Submit Discovery Year proposal, present at Discovery Scholarship Day (June 2025), and any other requirements per DGSOM


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

Mary Marfisee, MD, MPH, (see faculty profileAssistant 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, (see faculty profile) 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, (see faculty profile) 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.

Anne Marie Hernandez MD, MPH (see faculty profileis a an HS Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine. She completed Family Medicine Residency at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and her MD degree at UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Hernandez was honored as a 2023-2025 Bruin Scholar for commitment to research to advance the heath and health care of diverse patient populations. Her research interest are on tele-health use among marginalized populations, Latinx health and healthcare, pathway programs, and health equity and disparities. She completed a 2 year UCLA T32 NRSA Primary Care & Health Services Research Fellow, and also an MPH and MS at UCLA. Dr. Hernandez mentors medical students and residents and serves as director for the Department's pathway program for High School Students in Van Nuys Medical Magnet High School. She has published on primary care workforce diversity and her research interests include improving primary care and access to care for underserved and vulnerable populations. Dr. Hernandez is the recipient of a UCLA LIFT UP pilot research project to explore doctor-patient decision making about new medications among Spanish-Speaking patients with diabetes. Dr. Hernandez will collaborate with Dr. Moreno to mentor medical students during Discovery Year

OTHER SELECTED FACULTY (List of all research faculty)

Lilian Gelberg MD, MPH (see faculty profile) Dr. Lillian Gelberg, MD, MSPH is a family physician, professor, and experienced health services researcher in the Department of Family Medicine at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Health Policy and Management at the Fielding School of Public Health, and Office of Healthcare Transformation and Innovation of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.  Dr. Gelberg has been PI or co-PI on over $90 million of research funding, published over 220 peer-reviewed papers, and mentored over 100 young investigators.  Her work with low-income diverse patients of our federally qualified community health centers and homeless populations including Veterans and their families, and is advancing the national agenda to end homelessness and to promote healthy lifestyle change via integration of prevention into primary care - to reduce risky substance use, overweight/obesity and other metabolic diseases.

Mimi Tarn MD, PhD (see faculty profile) Derjung Mimi Tarn, MD, PhD is Professor of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She is Vice Chair of the University of California systemwide University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC), and from 2018-2020 was Chair of the UCLA Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. Dr. Tarn’s research expertise is in physician-patient communication in the primary care setting, primarily regarding medications and dietary supplements. Her recent work has focused on increasing the use of preventive health services in older adults, and on understanding patient perceptions about medications and reasons for nonadherence. She combines qualitative and quantitative research methods in her work, including audio recording of physician-patient interactions. Dr. Tarn is the recipient of the Family Practice Excellence in Research Award from the California Academy of Family Physicians, and of an Honorable Mention for the Society of Teachers in Family Medicine (STFM) Best Paper Award. Her work has been selected for Distinguished and Extended Paper talks at meetings of the Society of Teachers in Family Medicine and North American Primary Care Research Group. Her research is supported by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Tarn earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological Sciences from Stanford University, an M.D. from New York Medical College, and a Ph.D. in Health Services from UCLA. She also completed National Research Service Award (NRSA) Primary Care Research and UCLA Specialty Training and Advanced Research (STAR) fellowships at UCLA before joining the faculty in 2006.

Gerardo Moreno MD, MSHS (see faculty profile) Dr. Gerardo Moreno is Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine, and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. He is a clinician investigator and his current research focuses on studying effective healthcare delivery in communities for uninsured vulnerable populations including undocumented residents and older adults. His areas of expertise include diabetes in older adults, the evaluation of health system and community level interventions for vulnerable populations, physician workforce diversity, social and structural determinants of health, language-based disparities in healthcare, and medical education programs. Dr. Moreno has published clinical guidelines on diabetes among older adults and studies that have increased our understanding of health disparities and the social determinants of health, and has published on other important issues addressing physician workforce diversity, family medicine, and medical education. Dr. Moreno is principal investigator of a multi-year evaluation of a novel primary care coverage program for low-income uninsured and undocumented patients receiving care in 23 community health centers across 21 California counties. He has published clinical guidelines on diabetes among older adults and studies that have increased our understanding of health disparities and the social determinants of health, and has published on other important issues addressing physician workforce diversity, family medicine, primary care and medical education. He served as an associate editor for the Annals of Family Medicine and now serves on the journal’s Board of Directors. Dr. Moreno earned his MD at the UCLA School of Medicine, a Master of Science in Health Services from the UCLA School of Public Health and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) Foundation Clinical Scholars Program at UCLA.


Students interested in participating in the Family Medicine Discovery Year Program should submit an application and CV to our submission portal by 5pm on June 3, 2024. More details can be found on the application form. Between June 4-6, students will be contacted to confirm acceptance and receive their faculty mentor assignment. 


Applications to the Family Medicine Discovery Year Program are due by 5pm on June 3, 2024. Students will be contacted no later than June 6 to be informed which mentor they have been paired with. Students and Mentors should then complete/sign the Discovery Mentorship Agreement Form, per DGSOM guidance. **Note that the link to the Agreement Form is different from the website, which is broken/old.

The 2024-2025 Discovery Year Mentorship program dates are October 28, 2024 through June 13, 2025.  There will be a poster fair at the end of the program where students will be required to present their projects.