Diversity Pipeline/Student Affinity Groups

Vanderbilt School of Medicine is committed to leveling the playing field for underrepresented students. Through strategic partnerships, we have developed robust pipeline programs to diversify the healthcare workforce of tomorrow and to provide unique leadership opportunities that establish promising careers.


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The Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s to PhD Bridge Program exists to improve the demographic representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Studies indicate that underrepresented minority (URM) students are more likely to use the master’s degrees as a stepping stone to the PhD. Hence, to increase the number of URM students engaged in PhD-level STEM research, a relationship between Fisk University, which is an accredited Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and Vanderbilt University was conceived.

The productivity and accomplishments of Bridge students is outstanding. They have published dozens of manuscripts, including the first astronomy paper in Nature with an African American female as first author. Our students have won competitive Ford Fellowships, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, NASA Harriet Jenkins Fellowships, and NIH NRSA Predoctoral Awards among many other grants. They have presented their science all over the world and increased the national attention to our program model.

As of Fall 2018, we have produced 29 PhD graduates in Physics, Astronomy and Materials Science. Every student has acquired STEM-related employment prior to graduation. Among these early cohorts are the first African American female to graduate from the astronomy program at Yale and the first African American female astronomer to publish a first-author Nature article. We are now on track to produce three to five PhDs a year. Fisk is the number one producer of master’s degrees earned by African Americans (with an 83% retention rate to the PhD and a 97% overall retention rate). The Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program is contributing significantly to the STEM workforce and academe.


2017 UCRIP Summer Interns

The Vanderbilt Undergraduate Clinical Research Internship Program (UCRIP), under the leadership of Kimberly Vinson, M.D., gives college students earning a four-year degree the opportunity to participate in both research and clinical patient care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, as well as a forum to prepare them to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). 

This program is designed specifically for students who are interested in a career in medicine.  Participants complete a research project under the directorship of a research mentor and also directly observe clinical patient care while spending time with residents and attending physicians.

UCRIP gives students a better idea of what doctors do and allows them to look at medicine through a different lens, with an emphasis on the role that research can play in patient care while providing valuable observational experience that most medical schools want to see on applications.

In addition to observing physicians and participating in research, the students attend weekly seminars led by medical school administrators who talk about different aspects of medicine, medical school and the admissions process.

In 15 years, UCRIP has engaged approximately 150 students.


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The Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) is an academic consortium of 32 institutions of higher learning, including leading research and teaching college and universities. The mission of the Leadership Alliance is to develop underrepresented students into outstanding leaders and role models in academia, business and the public sector. This program offers undergraduates interested in pursuing a PhD or MD-PhD the opportunity to work for eight to ten weeks under the guidance of a faculty or research mentor at participating Alliance institutions. The SR-EIP is principally designed to encourage students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities including students who identify as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans (including Alaska Natives) and US Pacific Islanders, to consider research careers in the academic, public, or private sectors.


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The Vanderbilt Program for LGBTQ Health, founded by Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., and now directed by Del Ray Zimmerman, is a national leader in patient care, education, research, and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities.  Through its one-of-a-kind internship program, we further this mission by fostering the personal and professional development of future leaders in LGBTQ health and research. In the last five years, Team LGBTQ Health has engaged 25 undergraduate and graduate students in research coinciding with our gender-affirming Vanderbilt Clinic for Transgender Health, as well as investigating the best methods for collecting data related to sexual orientation and gender identity and unique screening recommendations for sexual and gender minorities. Last summer, students completed the first-ever LGBTQ supplement to Vanderbilt’s Community Health Needs Assessment. Many of our students have published their research or have presented at national conferences. All students have gone on to further studies in medicine and nursing or have begun careers in health-allied professions.


Short Pipeline Program

VUSM operates what it calls the “short pipeline” program to encourage college students from underrepresented groups to pursue a career in medicine. Under an agreement with three historically black colleges and universities – Fisk University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College – as well as Berea College in Kentucky, a sophomore student from each educational institution spends the summer at the medical school conducting research and preparing for the Medical College Admission Test.

The students spend two hours every morning in the classroom studying biology and chemistry. They then spend the rest of their time working on research with a faculty or medical student mentor. The mentors remain available to the students in the program when they return to their undergraduate institutions.

Students who successfully complete the summer program, score at a stipulated level on the MCAT, and maintain a certain level grade point average, will provisionally be admitted to the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine when they graduate with a bachelor’s degree.