Jacquelyn Fields, a first-year medical student at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, “grew up mainly in predominantly white environments in Vegas,” which is one of the reasons she decided to attend an out-of-state college. “It was kind of a fear of mine, choosing to come back to Las Vegas for medical school, because I was scared that I would be one of two minority students again, and I wanted to be surrounded by a diverse environment.”
Speaking with Fields after she attended and helped plan the Region 1 Medical Education Conference for the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), that concern has dissipated.
With chapters throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean, SNMA is one of the largest and longest-standing, student-run organizations focused on the needs of medical students of color. One of the ways SNMA works towards the goal of fostering the development of underrepresented minority medical students is through holding their annual regional conferences, the latest of which was the first-ever, in-person conference hosted at the school's Medical Education Building.
“Having the first in-person conference ever, being the SNMA Regional Conference was, I think, pivotal for our school, and shows the type of direction that we're going in as a Las Vegas community,” Fields says. “We are making strides to further diversify the medical spaces.”
Fields, along with fellow first-year medical student and SNMA chapter co-president Samrawit Misiker, worked tirelessly – with support from the school’s office of diversity, equity, and inclusion – to pull off the conference, which ran from Jan. 27-29.
For Misiker, the conference’s closing banquet – where Las Vegas’s first Black pediatrician and school of medicine professor Dr. Beverly Neyland and school of medicine associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion Dr. Mario Gaspar de Alba both received awards for their impact on the community – was a highlight. She recalls “driving home from the banquet and feeling so empowered – and thinking ‘This was worth all the work that went into planning,’ because hearing from everyone was so inspirational.”
The conference not only targeted medical students like Fields and Misiker, but also featured events and panels for high schoolers interested in the medical field and for pre-med undergraduate students.
“I actually ran one of the workshops with my sister [Jessica Fields], and it was for the pre-meds navigating the timeline of applying to medical school ... That was the first time we ever spoke and presented together both as medical students, so it was just a really special moment to share with her, thinking ‘Whoa, look at what we're becoming, look at what we're accomplishing.’”
After the workshop, Fields recalls a dozen or so attendees who stayed, eager to hear more about the medical school application process or to get connected with other medical students; the Fields sisters graciously shared their contact info or referred them to other medical students with more niche knowledge.
“I was once there and now I'm here and I have a network,” Jacquelyn Fields reflects, “and being able to extend my resources to help them, it’s nice.”
That network will undoubtedly expand as Fields and Misiker both, with one SNMA Regional Conference under their belts, look forward to many conferences to come.
“Planning this has definitely been a bonding experience that I’m sure we'll remember for 40 years, when we'll be coming back as guest speakers,” Misiker smiles.