Susan Cheng
Category: Community Health, Health Magazine

Title:A sense of belonging

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Georgetown School of Medicine supports a variety of student organizations designed to foster a sense of inclusiveness and belonging, and to encourage student advocacy for health justice issues.

One example of GUSOM Generation I, a group established four years ago to support first-generation medical students. The journey of Vy Phan (M’24), the organization’s current co-leader, reflects the unique difficulties faced by these students in navigating a path to higher education.

Phan emigrated from Vietnam to Indiana with her parents when she was 4 years old. Although her parents prioritized education, they didn’t have the experience and context to help her navigate the American school system.

“I learned to be pretty resourceful. For homework help, I relied on library books and the internet,” Phan says. Her high grades earned her a scholarship to attend a high school prep school, but when she applied for internships she was rejected everywhere. “I eventually reached out to a classmate’s parents, who worked in my field of interest and helped me out. In that one instance, I realized how important networking and social resources were.”

The Generation I group provides Phan with the opportunity to give back by supporting students in the classes following hers. “I feel quite passionate about being a mentor to others,” she says. “When you’re just starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

One of the organization’s major initiatives is a mentorship program that matches first-generation faculty members and students. It also sponsors special events, such as a February panel discussion about supporting and advocating for first-generation students in their medical training. Another recent initiative is a donation box outside the medical school library where students can donate text books and other items.

“These student leaders are rock stars,” says Susan Cheng, EdLD, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “Our student groups are creating great examples for faculty and staff.”