Allied health care careers program helps high schoolers envision a future in medicine

The UCLA Health Pre-Med Scholars Summer Program introduces students to medical training

Navigating your future as a first-generation student can be especially challenging for those considering a career in medicine.

“It's hard because I don't really have anyone that can look out for me academically. No one in my family really knows what I'm going through or what I have to study for,” says Lizbeth Cordova Lopez, a graduating senior at Sylmar Biotech Health & Engineering Magnet.

With guidance from her high school counselor, Cordova Lopez joined the high school dual enrollment program at Los Angeles Mission College (LAMC), where she took a course on allied health professions taught by Gloria Moon, MSW, MPH, program director of Community Engagement at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Lizbeth Cordova Lopez practices her skills sewing up a model of a stomach, during the Pre-Med Summer Scholars Program, in June 2021. (Photo by Regina Naanos, UCLA Pre-Med Summer Scholars Program Manager)

“There are many resources for high school students who need the extra support. Lizbeth's resourcefulness and curiosity about these opportunities made it easy for us to find her scholarships to participate in several learning programs,” Moon says.

Through the dual enrollment program, Cordova Lopez earned 60 college credits while in high school. She also attended the UCLA Pre-Med Scholars Summer Program, a hands-on five-day educational program that introduces students to medical professions, experiences and trainings; and the Turner-UCLA Allied Health Virtual Summer Camp.

The virtual summer camp was this year held in lieu of the in-person internship program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided students with virtual workshops with guest speakers from various UCLA Health departments, such as Talent Management, People-Animal Connection, UCLA Health IT and more.

Through the Summer Scholars Program, Cordova Lopez was introduced to Dr. Aparna Sridhar, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA Health.

Aparna Sridhar, MD, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, addresses students about labor, in June 2021. (Photo by Regina Naanos, UCLA Pre-Med Summer Scholars Program Manager)

“I found it really interesting how she was so passionate for her career and how she advocated for women’s rights on the side,” says Cordova Lopez. “She really inspired me.”

Exposure to these opportunities paired with her own health experiences motivated Cordova to advocate for herself too.

At a health clinic for menstrual cramps, Cordova Lopez hoped to see a doctor that could prescribe her homeopathic or natural remedies. Instead, she was offered birth control and told to take a pain reliever.

“He was telling me all the effects that (birth control) would have on my body, that it would change my cycle and possibly change body weight and I told him that it wasn't worth it,” Cordova Lopez says. “I had to endure the pain and I don't think that women should have to do just that.”

Because of this, she says,K her dream is to someday open up her own OB-GYN clinic in the San Fernando Valley.

“I think that it would be great to give back to the community that raised me and gave me direction,” she says.

This spring, Cordova Lopez graduates with a high school diploma, two associate’s degrees, and a health occupation certification.

The eldest of four, Cordova Lopez is the first to graduate from high school, pursue college and choose a school that is out of state. She will attend Notre Dame University in Indiana.

Lizbeth Cordova Lopez, right, and participants of the Pre-Med Scholars Program learn several specialties, including how to perform general surgery, in June 2021. (Photo by Regina Naanos, UCLA Pre-Med Summer Scholars Program Manager)

“Picking a school out of state was huge because in Mexican families, you don't really go away – you stick together. You can't really do that to your family, because it feels like a betrayal, almost,” she says. “I had to talk to my family for months to convince them that I really wanted to go and that it would be a really big opportunity for my career and for my future.”

Her family finally came around, she says.

“In order to follow our dreams, we have to break through the Latino culture and stereotypes of staying home. We have to go out of our way and pursue all the opportunities that are sometimes beyond our comfort zone and a little bit better and a little bit more challenging, because it can definitely be more rewarding.”

Cordova Lopez strongly believes, and would advocate, that other high school students should enroll in college courses and network with school counselors, teachers and college professors.

“These programs actually helped steer me toward a clear path of where I see myself in the future,” she says.

Learn more about the UCLA Pre-Med Scholars Summer Program.