One of the crucial mechanisms to address health disparities, the difference in health outcomes between different populations in the United States, is to train minority researchers and health care providers. Research has demonstrated myriad times that cultivating a healthy, high-quality pipeline for minority scholars, beginning at a young age, can result in greater minority representation in the health professions. 

This year, the summer training programs for students interested in health care professions have expanded substantially. This is the first summer for both the STEP-UP and SHPEP programs, while the long-standing SEP programP1010009 celebrates its 10th year.

The Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons, or STEP-UP, is currently in its first year. It’s a research-based program which gives each student 8-10 weeks of full-time research experience. The program pairs 22 undergraduate students with mentors, who guide them through a research program, which includes training in the responsible conduct of research. The STEP-UP Program is a federally funded program managed and supported by the Office of Minority Health Research Coordination (OMHRC) in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The overall goal of STEP-UP is to build and sustain a biomedical, behavioral, clinical and social science research pipeline focused on NIDDK’s core mission areas of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases and nutrition; kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. The program includes the payment of all travel expenses to the annual STEP-UP Research Symposium held on NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Summer Health Professions Enrichment Program (SHPEP), is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is a free summer enrichment residential program which takes place from June 5 – July 14. SHPEP was developed from a partnership between the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Medicine, School of Dentistry, School of Optometry, and School of Health Professions, home to the Physician Assistant, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy programs. 

The Summer Enrichment Program (SEP), now in its 10th year, helps undergraduates learn about careers in health care and health disparities research.  The program is available to students from UAB and six Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Alabama A&M, Alabama State University, Miles College, Oakwood University, Stillman College, and Tuskegee University. Participants spend three consecutive summers in the program, allowing them to delve more deeply into health-related work and research. The first year, SEP students study scientific writing and cultural competency, tour all UAB health-related schools, and take a career road map class. In year two, SEP students continue scientific writing and begin a two-term course in health policy. Students culminate the year with a mentor-guided research project the findings of which are presented in a research poster competition. In their final year, SEP students complete the second health policy term and continue their research project or begin new research with their mentor the outcomes of which are presented at both the UAB Undergraduate Research Expo and SEP awards and closing ceremony.

SEP enjoys extremely high retention, and has successfully shepherded scores of students into health care professions in a number of fields.

These three programs, while exceptional in their reach, represent only a few of the summer pipeline training programs administered at UAB.