Applying to medical school can be daunting, especially for minority students who may not have had the educational advantages of their peers.
But Nilda I. Soto, a two-time Fordham graduate and assistant dean in the office of diversity enhancement at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, wants students to know that with the proper support, they can become doctors.
“This is a doable, attainable goal that you have,” she told a group of 10 incoming freshmen in Fordham’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) for minority and economically disadvantaged students. “It’s a very disciplined endeavor but it’s doable.”
The students visited Einstein on July 22 as part of Fordham’s five-week CSTEP Summer Scholars program. Students live on the Rose Hill campus, take math and science courses, and visit medical, dental, and optometry schools.
In a conference room on the Einstein campus, Soto doled out practical advice on how to sequence college courses, when to take the MCAT, and the importance of summer internships.
Part of her goal for the afternoon was to debunk “the horror stories” about medical school admissions. Everyone’s heard a tale about the student “with the 3.88 average and the fabulous MCAT score who didn’t get in.” But admissions staff value more than scores, she said, citing her colleague in the diversity office at Einstein who “looks at the road you have traveled.”
If students can remain focused on their studies despite significant challenges, Soto said, “then we feel comfortable that you’re going to succeed in medical school.”
She cautioned, however, that the percentage of minority students in medical schools is low. She noted only 500 black men matriculated into medical school in 2013, out of 20,000 students, according to a chart from the American Association of Medical Colleges that Soto included in a packet she put together for the CSTEPpers. “If you don’t get the support and help, our numbers are going to look worse.”
A Bronx native, Soto graduated in 1974 from Thomas More College (Fordham’s undergraduate women’s college, which existed from 1964 until 1974, when it merged with Fordham College at Rose Hill). After earning a B.A. in urban studies, she worked on the Rose Hill campus for HEOP, the Higher Education Opportunity Program, and went on to earn a master’s degree from Fordham’s Graduate School of Education in 1978.
She has been at Einstein for 24 years, during which time she has worked closely with Michael Molina, CSTEP’s director at Fordham, advising CSTEP students early in their college careers.
“You have very good and focused young people,” she said, but they are competing against kids who’ve gone to high schools with extensive science equipment and resources. “And here are these kids thinking, ‘Maybe I got to dissect a frog.’ The program is needed to help level the playing field.”
Soto also accepts CSTEP students into her summer research program at Einstein and, in the case of at least one aspiring medical student, has provided extended mentorship.
CSTEPper Nabilah Nishat said the afternoon at Einstein—and the summer program—have made her goals seem more realistic.
“CSTEP showed me it’s possible to go into the health professions,” she said, “and because it’s possible, I’m inspired to go on.”