Returning trainees and their experiences in the MCH LEAP program at USC

Di’Onna McFadden

The University of South Carolina (USC) Maternal and Child Health and Leadership, Education, and Advancement in Undergraduate Pathways (MCH LEAP) is a mentored program sponsored by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA). MCH LEAP is currently in its third year with thirty-two trainees for the 2023-2024 academic year. Of the thirty-two trainees, eight are returning from the previous year. In fact, there is one student who has been an MCH LEAP trainee for all three years of the program existing at USC.

Di’Onna McFadden was accepted into the MCH LEAP as a sophomore and is now in the junior year of her bachelor’s degree in exercise science with the career aspiration of a physician, more specifically to “become an OB/GYN and help provide assistance to those areas in SC that don’t have access to one.” Di’Onna wanted to return to the MCH LEAP program because she “loves the mentorship and networking opportunities” and being a trainee “has connected [her] with people that are knowledgeable but also ready to help with any questions regarding MCH or other careers after college.”

Tyler Riley is another senior in the MCH LEAP program who returned for a second year. She aspires to be a pediatric psychiatrist and has been able to “learn from individuals who are where [she] wants to be in [her] future career” while in the MCH LEAP program. One of the driving factors that encouraged her to return was the faculty mentors. Tyler explained how “The faculty advisors are outstanding; they go above and beyond to assist us with everything that comes up, which is helpful for recommendation letters and other opportunities… Both this program and your advisors have a wealth of knowledge that we may utilize.”

Olivia Johnson is currently in her second year of the MCH LEAP program, having started in her sophomore year. She aims to be a physician assistant, specifically to specialize in pediatrics as her future career. Prior to the program, Olivia expressed how she “did not know about the current research going on about issues in maternal and child health… The program gave me access to internships and programs that I did not know about before joining.” With the various networking opportunities and educational aspects of the program, she explained how her perspectives shifted: “You might have your mind set on one career but that can easily change. Being in this program showed me that there are many opportunities in MCH.”

Elexus Kelly

Elexus Kelly was accepted into the program as a junior, and now is a senior about to graduate at USC. Her career aspiration is to become a pediatric dentist and through this program, she has realized how she would also like to help the MCH population specifically. Elexus realized that she “likes learning about maternal and child healthcare and ways I can help to support/care for this community.” She decided to reapply because “[she] was interested in graduate school at USC and wanted to get more insight in the field to find the career that fit for me”, and “having guest speakers, it is interesting to hear their points of view and perspectives on their outlook of life and their careers.”

Jesalyn Vinkemulder is another returning trainee to the program, aspiring to become a physician assistant. Jesalyn wanted to return to this program because of “the mentorship and getting to learn from speakers.” Specifically, she emphasized how the mentorship was extremely helpful to her with not only educational topics but also professional ones, “The mentorship because I get to hear from accomplished faculty members about their work and time in MCH, as well as receive guidance and tips, all helped me figure out to forge my own path.”. Jesalyn hopes to work on prenatal care quality and access, along with pre-term birth outcomes once she starts practicing as a physician assistant.

These are just a few of the amazing stories from our returning trainees on why they came back. This program has extensive connections, with ever-growing opportunities both inside and outside of our local community. We cannot wait to see what our former and current trainees continue to accomplish both academically and professionally.