The second edition of the National Pre-Health Conference takes place on Wednesday August 4. The three-day, free, virtual event is quickly becoming the premier conference in Philadelphia for students considering pursuing a career in healthcare.
Its goal is to inspire them to pursue these careers in the hope of changing the face of the profession to make healthcare more inclusive and accessible for all.
The one leading this charge is Alejandra Bahena, senior from the University of Pennsylvania.
A long road to UPenn
In many ways, Bahena’s story is central to the conference’s mission to expand who is seen in healthcare and those who benefit from it.
Born in Mexico City, Bahena’s mother moved to the United States when her daughter was only four years old, leaving her in the care of her father.
A life apart from her mother continued until she reached eighth grade, when financial and other difficulties forced Bahena and her siblings to move to the United States with her mother.
These financial difficulties continued in the United States, as her single mother worked two minimum wage jobs to support her children and found herself in a number of life situations.
âThe first few years we were here were very difficult,â Bahena said.
Fortunately, she said, there was a community behind her new family in Celebration, Florida where they settled.
Additional stability was found for Bahena in her teaching career.
âEducation has been a great way for me to help my family in the future,â she said.
At school, Bahena also found vital support from her counselor, who not only encouraged her to go to college, but also found her the financial support needed to make it a reality.
Before, the idea of ââgoing to college seemed like a distant dream. Bahena’s sister could not pursue her own higher education aspirations because she had to stay home and help her mother provide for her other siblings.
âMy mom basically wanted us to come here and learn English, and didn’t really have a plan for us,â she said.
Through her advisor, Bahena got involved in the nonprofit QuestBridge, which connects high-performing students from low-income backgrounds with opportunities at top US universities.
At the end of her experience with QuestBridge, Bahena was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania.
There, Bahena studies biochemistry, where she hopes to combine her interests in neurology, chemistry and psychiatry for a career in medicine.
A COVID creation
In her own words, she was building precious bonds and making the most of her school experience until COVID-19 hit Philadelphia and Penn was forced to send all of her students home.
For Bahena, that meant going back to Florida to stay with her mother and sister.
âIt wasn’t really a stable situation at home,â she said.
In search of a better learning environment, Bahena then moved to live with her older sister and her fiancÃ© in Cozumel, Mexico. Similar difficulties arose when she had to share a room with them.
After that, Bahena went to an aunt’s house in Mexico City, but struggles with Wi-Fi brought her back to Florida to see the rest of the semester at Penn.
âIt has been a very stressful semester for me,â she said. âI felt that because of the challenges, I was not able to give the best of myself. “
When times got tough and doubts arose about her future in medical school, Bahena reached out to her mentors to found her. Ultimately, the conversations got her through this difficult year.
With experience, Bahena also developed a greater appreciation for the mentors she gathered and her fortune to have them.
âA lot of students don’t have this kind of support, especially in the area of ââpre-health,â she said.
This is even more common for students from under-represented backgrounds.
âGetting into the medical field is very, very difficult, and it takes a lot of effort, a lot of support, a lot of resources. So the students who don’t have these things can’t get there, and so on. that’s why there are a lot of problems with health systems that lack diversity and so on, âBahena said.
These achievements spawned what would become the National Pre-Health Conference.
After struggling to end her COVID-affected semester at home, Bahena contacted a number of friends in Florida and Penn about the idea of ââputting together a virtual event that would allow students in the field. pre-health like her and would expose them to her many career opportunities.
The first meeting took place on June 19, 2020.
With the help of a friend from her hometown of Celebration who had extensive experience in event planning, Bahena’s idea quickly became a reality and the first-ever national pre-health conference was held between the August 20 and 22.
âThis conference is one of the most enriching experiences I have had [in] all my life so far, âshe said.
In numbers, the virtual conference reached over 1,000 students across the country, and the feedback they received helped make the 2021 version even better.
Unity in health care
This year’s virtual edition begins August 4 and ends August 6 with the theme âUnity in Healthcareâ.
Unity is one of the core values ââof the National Pre-Health Conference and was inspired by what has been done to tackle COVID-19 in the healthcare industry over the past year and a half.
âWe really wanted to emphasize how important it is for students to learn more about aspects of collaboration in healthcare,â Bahena said. âI am only thinking of the pandemic, of the different types of care teams that had to work together to be able to help patients as effectively as possible given the demands. “
Built from personal experience
Much of what goes into the actual three-day lineup is based on Bahena’s own experience.
For example, the first day of 2021 is all about exposing students to the myriad of career opportunities in healthcare. This is done through a series of presentations from industry professionals, such as doctors, medical assistants, psychiatrists, public health professionals, etc.
âMost of the time, when students come to college and know they want to go into the medical field, they usually only know nursing or medicine, or maybe even dentistry,â he said. Bahena said. âMany other areas are not known. “
In her own experience, as a first generation student, to enter medicine was to become a doctor.
For her, the first day of the conference is about helping students make more informed decisions earlier in their careers in health education.
The second day aims to help students understand the medical school application process and offers workshops on CVs and personal statements, among other tips from recruiters and students who have gone through it.
The third and final day is the most varied and covers the wide range of topics within the industry, such as business, health advocacy and worker mental health, among other topics.
In addition to exposing students to these multitudes of career paths and intersections with healthcare, Bahena also said the conference aims to create a community for those who are just starting their healthcare journey. .
Going virtual, the event also created a national community of people interested in medicine.
It also allows people to stay connected through newsletters, social media accounts, and a Discord server.
As for the future of the National Pre-Health Conference, Bahena’s main goal is to secure additional funding and become a certified non-profit organization.
To register for the 2021 conference for free, visit the organization’s website.