Georgetown University School of Medicine students have established GUSOM Generation I, an organization for students who identify as first-generation to access a structured network of resources and support from peers and faculty members with similar backgrounds.
The group, which began as an initiative proposed by the medical school’s Council on Diversity Affairs and six first-generation students, hopes to support first-generation medical students throughout their time at Georgetown and celebrate their shared experiences, according to GUSOM Generation I founding member Wooju Kim (MED ’21).
“Our goal is basically to create a safe space for people to talk about things from their past that they may not have had the liberty or space to talk about with other people, especially in medicine,” Kim said.
Reflecting on the difficulty many first-generation students share in relating to the rest of their peers, Kim noted the importance of having friends and mentors with similar backgrounds who have faced similar struggles, especially given the difficulties of medical school. GUSOM Generation I provides an outlet for such students to build relationships with peers working to overcome similar barriers, Kim said.
Of the challenges facing first-generation students, one of the biggest is a lack of access to the same resources as other students, GUSOM Generation I founding member Matt Triano (MED ’21) said.
“I think while applying to med school I really noticed my lack of connections,” Triano wrote in an email to The Hoya.
As many medical schools expect applicants to have experience shadowing and working in the medical field, Triano and Kim both noted their lack of connections as a disadvantage that their more privileged peers did not experience. This lack of access to resources is another issue GUSOM Generation I hopes to alleviate.
“I don’t want other first-generation students to have a similar experience as I did in college,” Triano said. “It makes me think about how many people could be phenomenal physicians but, because of these roadblocks, never get there or are deterred away — I certainly almost was.”
By providing first-generation medical students with resources they often do not have as much access to, GUSOM Generation I hopes to bridge the gap between the rates at which first-generation and continuing-generation students attend medical school.
While the percentage of first-generation and continuing-generation students in bachelor degree programs is similar, there are nearly twice as many continuing-generation students in doctoral and professional degree programs as there are first-generation students.
The lack of first-generation students pursuing doctoral and professional degrees points to a lack of diversity within medical and professional schools, an issue that GUSOM Generation I is working to address, according to GUSOM Generation I founding member Hailey Roumimper (MED ’21).
“In addition to providing a supportive and inclusive community for first-generation students, for me one of the other goals of this group is to spark larger conversations about the importance of having a diverse student body from a variety of backgrounds,” Roumimper wrote in an email to The Hoya.
This push for greater diversity is reflected within GUSOM Generation I’s community itself: The group does not abide by a strict definition of what it means to be a first-generation student.
“We have a very flexible definition of first-gen, since it’s often difficult to put people into neat little boxes,” Triano wrote. “We allow people to self-identify, and welcome anyone who thinks they could benefit from our community and our resources.”
Kim herself uses a “more nuanced definition” of first-generation: Her parents attended four-year colleges in South Korea, but she is part of the first generation in her family to attend college in the United States, and the first to attend medical school. GUSOM Generation I allows her to connect with students sharing the same feelings towards being first-generation as her, Kim said.
The club plans to continue fostering a supportive community for first-generation medical students at Georgetown while expanding the program to provide more mentors and resources for its members. By increasing the visibility and support for first-generation students in medical school, GUSOM Generation I is working to eliminate the stigma around being a first-generation college student, Triano said.
“I think we’re all becoming more comfortable speaking candidly about our experiences and backgrounds, wearing them as a badge of honor rather than hiding them as evidence of being abnormal or undeserving,” Triano wrote. “By building a community and fostering mentorship we hope to uncover more of these barriers so that we can better understand and overcome them.”