A full circle future physician
Alison Thomas talking to a group of students at a summer camp

Five years ago, recent high-school graduate Alison Thomas signed up to participate in a summer program hosted by a brand-new Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. One of the oldest participants in the group, a few short weeks from starting her undergraduate degree at Wayne State University, little did she know at the time that this program would introduce her to the medical school where, four years later, she would begin her M.D. journey.

The Future Physicians Summer Enrichment Program (FPSEP) is a two-week program centered around biomedical sciences and human anatomy for high school students who have expressed interest in medicine and careers in health sciences. Co-sponsored by OUWB and Oakland University Public School Academies, the program aims to give students a deeper understanding of medical issues, the multiple systems and processes of the human body and how they are impacted by current social topics.

After an uncertain first day, Thomas, now a rising M3 OUWB student, realized the scope of learning opportunities this program would offer her. “One day, we learned all about cardiology, so we had one of the cardiologists from Beaumont come in and talk,” Thomas says. “We also talked about anatomy, and they brought in different models; I got a lot out of it.” Not only did the program offer her hands-on exposure to different potential career paths within the medical field, but it put OUWB on her radar as a contending medical school.

Choosing OUWB; the ongoing experience

The West Bloomfield-native has always considered Beaumont to be her dream hospital at which to work; therefore, the collaboration between OUWB and Beaumont made the school more appealing to her. “I remember leaving interview day, and I was so in love with the school,” she says. “I knew I had to be here, no matter what.”

The other major factor was the engaging OUWB faculty and staff. “It was something I didn’t see at other schools – how much care they put into making sure that we are on the right path and that we have all the resources we need,” she says.

One faculty member in particular, Caryn Reed-Hendon, Ph.D., OUWB Director of Diversity and Inclusion, was a program director when Thomas attended the FPSEP. The two reunited years later, during Thomas’s OUWB orientation week. “I saw her, and I remembered her, but I didn’t think she’d remember me,” Thomas says. “And we made eye contact, and she said my name, and she said: ‘welcome home.’”

Upon beginning her journey as an OUWB graduate student, Thomas began to draw similarities between the principles practiced at the FPSEP and at OUWB, including an emphasis on hands-on interaction and collaboration with Beaumont physicians. “It’s hard first and second year to do anything hands-on, because we don’t know that much yet,” she explains. “But the school does a good job exposing us to patients; even the health fairs allow us to counsel people on flu shots and talk to them about blood pressure.”

Looking back, Thomas believes that FPSEP and other similar programs are beneficial for potential medical students because they take some of the guesswork out of medical school. “They explained what medical school is like, exposed us to holding brains and holding lungs and seeing parts of the human body that you normally wouldn’t have exposure to,” she says. “You can hear about a program as much as possible, or read about it or research it, but it’s not the same as seeing things firsthand and talking to professors and physicians.”

Alison Thomas posing in a group photo with students at a summer camp
Alison Thomas met with the high school students in the Future Physicians Summer Enrichment Program
to answer their questions about medical school.

Thomas’s next steps

In pursuing her medical degree, Thomas is carrying out the passion she’s held for years. “When I was younger, my mom always said that I would get excited to go to my pediatrician,” she explains. “I wanted to be just like her.”

Though she is unsure of her specific career goals within the medical field, she is excited about the path she is on and hopeful about the future. “One thing I took away from the program was that it was going to be a long road, if I wanted to go to medical school – that it was going to be difficult, but that I could do it if it really is my passion,” Thomas says.