Pathmaker program aims to change the face of medicine

Apr 4, 2023, 6:30 PM | Updated: 7:09 pm

SALT LAKE LAKE — Many minorities are seriously underrepresented in the medical field and a program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute aims to help change that.

The Pathmaker program gives high school and college students the opportunity to learn and work alongside researchers at the hospital and research facility.

The program aims to address an issue highlighted by a recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges that says in the U.S., just 5.7 percent of doctors are Black or African American and 6.9 percent are Hispanic.

Jessica Venegas, the child of Mexican and Venezuelan immigrants, said she didn’t feel like she fit in anywhere at school until a 7th-grade science class.

“But once I took that science course, I fell in love with it,” she recalled.

Inspired by the story of her premature birth and the medical professionals who saved her life, she developed an interest in medicine.

In high school, she became a certified nurse assistant and medical assistant. The summer after graduation, she entered the Pathmaker program, where she was mentored by cancer researcher Arabella Young.

Arabella Young (left) meeting Jessica Venegas (right). (Huntsman Cancer Institute)

“Being surrounded by a variety of people who had the same passion and drive as I did, I found really exhilarating,” Venegas recalled.

“It was very impressive how motivated she was to learn and contribute to the lab environment at such an early stage of her training,” Young added.

Venegas now works part-time in Young’s lab as she studies biology at the University of Utah. The first in her family to attend college, Venegas plans to become a doctor.

Diwas Gautham, who spent the first eleven years of his life in a refugee camp in Nepal – his family was among the more than 100 thousand Bhutanese residents forced out of their country- decided to become a doctor early on.

“I think it was because of the lack of it, the lack of adequate healthcare in the community that we lived in,” Gautham explained.

Diwas Gautham, studying for his classes at the University of Utah. (KSLTV)

In 2011 after living in the camp for twenty years, his family came to Salt Lake City. It was hard to adjust to the new culture and new language.

“I struggled in classes early on as well, just trying to figure out what the teacher was asking,” he said.

In high school, Gautam participated in the Pathmaker program. Researcher Judith Simcox became his mentor.

“Science is so wonderful, and it’s full of discovery and mystery and curiosity. And I think everybody should have access to that,” Simcox expressed.

Now Gautham is in medical school at the U of U. He said he’ll become a better doctor, not despite his struggles, but because of them.

“In medicine, or in science, you fail a lot,” he said. “I feel like I have learned to be more resilient, learning to live with limited resources, adapting to this new culture, a new community, learning a new language…. really see the big picture and keep going.”

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Pathmaker program aims to change the face of medicine