23-year-old Regina Kangela, who wants to be a surgeon, is a member of the inaugural Pre-Medical Opportunity Program class.
In Africa, when Kangela was younger, her aunt was very sick and underwent heart surgery, and then had to use a pace maker. Kangela says this made her interested in cardiology and the inner-workings of the human body. She says if she became a doctor, she could help those she loves with their health care.
“Sometimes my aunt goes to the emergency room for just a little thing, and I could help her instead,” Kangela said.
Kangela is a refugee from The Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. She came to the U.S. with her daughter, who is now five years old. Being in an unfamiliar place and culture, she knew she needed to find ways to integrate and learn the skills needed to be a valued member of the workforce so she could take care of her family.
“I was in Nairobi, Kenya for like four years, then I came here as a refugee in 2017. I knew zero English,” Kangela said. “The only language I knew was French and another language from Africa. So then I went to the EOC and started learning English. I got my G.E.D. in 2019.”
Kangela says she is not yet a U.S. citizen, but she’s going through the process. She says people discouraged her from going into medicine because she’s a refugee.
“When you’re a refugee, people say, ‘Medical school is not for refugees. It’s only if you were born in the U.S.,'” Kangela said. “So, I said, ‘OK let me go find out. I just need someone to show me where to go.'”
Solving For a Lack of Diverse Representation in Medical School Programs
A major issue plaguing our healthcare system throughout the country is a lack of representation of healthcare professionals from diverse backgrounds, resulting in health care inequities between races and unequal treatment of patients. In order to fix this problem, medical school programs must focus on providing students from underrepresented communities the opportunities to pursue and excel in their studies.
The SUNY Pre-Medical Opportunity Program is directly addressing the barriers that minority students face when it comes to preparing for, applying to, and finding success in their medical school studies. SUNY medical schools are all part of the program—University at Buffalo, Downstate Health Sciences University, Stony Brook University, and Upstate Medical University—that will provide academic support, mentorship, clinical exposure, assistance with MCAT preparation, academic coaching, and workshops.
This past summer, the program kicked off at Upstate Medical, which included lectures, laboratory sessions, and classes to prepare the scholars for medical school entrance exams and their final undergraduate credits.
Help From SUNY Opens Doors
Kangela got her start to becoming a future healthcare professional at Onondaga Community College, and now, is continuing her preparation through the SUNY Pre-Med Opportunity Program. Kangela says as an aspiring surgeon, the SUNY Pre-Med Opportunity Program has been incredible.
“This program is amazing. I did not expect to be able to go to a lab, look at cadavers, see a heart,” Kangela said. “I love it.”
She says as someone who is not familiar with the American college system, the SUNY Pre-Med Opportunity Program’s mentorship system has been essential for her.
“Like, how long does it take,” Kangela said. “Sometimes I went to the internet like, ‘How do I go be a surgeon,’ I didn’t know after medical school you have to do residency.”
Kangela’s mom is still in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, three of her siblings are in Nairobi with another in France, and her father passed away. She says SUNY has embraced her.
“For me, coming here wasn’t that easy,” Kangela said. “I came with my daughter and she was only like six months old. So I didn’t have anyone to watch her. I still have to work and pay my own rent.”
Kangela says she did not think she’d be able to go to college, but an administrator at Onondaga Community College helped her to find affordable child care for her daughter so that she could attend classes and work.
“I found an amazing child care [program] in OCC,” Kangela said. “I just thank God for it.”
Kangela says SUNY has enabled her to chase her dreams.
“It’s so helpful because how could I do this while watching my daughter? How could I study? They give me time to go to the library and study and get things done,” Kangela said. “It’s an amazing place. I wouldn’t go to a private school, I like SUNY that much.”
Kangela says after completing the SUNY Pre-Med Opportunity Program, she would like to attend SUNY Upstate Medical University.
More than 11,000 health professionals graduate from a SUNY school every year, including one of every three medical school graduates, nearly one of every three nursing graduates, and one of every four dentists in the state. Like Kangela, the students who are a part of the Pre-Med Opportunity Program will soon be a part of that number, all of who will be part of the effort to keep New Yorkers healthy.