With UAB in limited business operations, its annual Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) was held virtually in 2020.

""Subsequent Zoom reunions are planned to maintain connections among classmates and the program team.

Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, SHPEP is a free six-week summer enrichment program for first- and second- year college students. The program is a partnership between the UAB Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Optometry, and Health Professions.

Ordinarily, around 350 students from across the country and Puerto Rico vie for one of only 80 openings. This year, the program received 400 applications and launched a modified four-week virtual program amid extraordinary pandemic-driven circumstances.

To make the first virtual SHPEP program a success, the team at UAB found a way to substitute in-person learning modules and experiences with technology. Teams across campus shifted, repurposed, and adapted strategies to fit within the University’s COVID-19 policies.

Led by Senior Associate Dean Michelle Robinson, D.M.D., M.A., the dental team of faculty and students facilitated an assortment of fun and educational virtual activities. Participants were introduced to the fundamentals of dentistry and dental terminology, took a video tour of the dental school guided by current students, and were tested on their knowledge and skills virtually.

“It was a busy and eventful several weeks,” said Robinson. “The participants aced a dental exam using pictures of a real patient. They even carved teeth out of soap. But rather than using white soap, they carved them out of UAB green soap. Since they all came out looking like teeth, it must mean we had a group of dentists in the making.”

About her experience facilitating activities, Nia Taylor, a third year dental student shared, “Working with SHPEP this summer was an extremely rewarding experience. Every student that participates in the program has a bright future and a drive to achieve their professional goals. It was great to have the opportunity to guide them through exciting learning experiences, mentor them on the next steps of their journey, and instill in them a lifelong appreciation for dentistry. The energy and enthusiasm of these budding health professionals helps to make SHPEP a truly memorable experience! “

UAB is one of only 12 schools across the country to host the prestigious summer program.

Robinson added, “We appreciate the ongoing support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who makes this all possible.”

More on SHPEP 2020 at UAB

As states began issuing stay-at-home orders in March, the national program office knew curriculum for 2020 needed to pivot. To stay on track, the national office set minimum teaching requirements to guide the 12 schools through their first virtual program.

UAB’s program experiences were broken down into three major categories: Patient Care, E-Learning, and Speakers.

Patient Care

One of the hardest, yet most valuable experiences the SHPEP team wanted to replicate, was the student’s ability to shadow dentists and doctors—observing their methods and interactions with patients. As a solution, the team partnered with the Office for Interprofessional Simulation (OIPS) to present virtual Opioid Simulation, Poverty Simulation and Patient simulation. They also acquired access to a comprehensive KAPLAN learning tool that simulates a patient. To get started, students selected one of the five simulations they have access to—each with their own patient history and built-in responses. Participants then proceeded to ask the right questions with the ultimate goal of giving a diagnosis and seeing the “patient” through treatment. Throughout their interaction with the simulator, KAPLAN’s learning tool tracked what questions are asked and provided feedback to the student. Dr. McNicholas-Bevensee, Associate Professor and Program Director for SHPEP, adds “using this program together with the virtual simulations will help empower our students to master patient assessment and diagnostic reasoning.” The students were given an opportunity to practice these skills during simulated patient encounters organized by the Office of Standardized Patient Education.


Canvas, an online learning management program used by the University, set up a structured experience for students. Within the program, students had access to all the things they needed to be successful—videos, workbooks, readings, etc. Content for these modules was provided by faculty from across campus. To add to their learning, the SHPEP team even created quizzes that participants needed to take before progressing to the next lecture series.

While the e-learning platform is most commonly used for traditional online learning, UAB’s SHPEP program didn’t want the students to lose out on “seeing” Birmingham. To ensure that was not lost, students had access to guided videos of UAB and participated in reflections.


During this four-week SHPEP experience, guest lecturers and diversity speakers were incorporated into the students’ learning. Dawn Fizer, a SHPEP Program Manager, said, “we did our best to ensure any of the experiences the students would be getting during an in-person year, would be accounted for during this virtual session—for example, learning about the history of our city and Vulcan or Sloss Furnace and the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.”

The Future of SHPEP at UAB

SHPEP leaders plan to create a hybrid program that incorporates some of the technology and key learnings into their in-person sessions. After seeing record-breaking highs in the interest of SHPEP at UAB, there is something the team is certain of—the impact this summer enrichment program has had on students. 

Adapted from: SHPEP's Virtual Launch by Jessica Snyder


Co-Principal Investigators:
Carlton Young, MD
Michelle Robinson, DMD, MA
Tracee Synco, PhD

Program Staff:
Dawn Fizer
Carmel McNicholas-Bevensee, PhD
Jenna Blythe-Tija, M. Ed
Carolyn Maddox

SHPEP Program Faculty:
David M. Morris, PT, PhD
Gerald Simon, OD
T. Madelyn Coar, DMD, MS

Additional Staff:
Erica Brown, M. Ed
Emuni Sanderson, MPA, SOHP
Katherine Sims, MBA, SOHP