Healthy Hawks

Learn more about UHart's response to COVID-19:

Success Stories

ENHP Students Prepare for Health Careers through Competitive Summer Program

November 06, 2018
Cameron McFarlane participating in the SHPEP program

For students aiming to become optometrists, pharmacists, or other health professionals, the opportunity to spend six weeks immersed in these professions can be invaluable. Three undergraduates were fortunate to have this experience as part of the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP).  Meghan Becerril ’20, Cameron McFarlane ’20, and Joana Lalaj ’20, all students in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions (ENHP), were selected for the competitive program this past summer.
SHPEP is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and prepares students underrepresented in the health professions for successful application to graduate schools. The six-week program takes place at 13 universities across the country and includes a combination of academic sessions, clinical rotations, career advising, and health policy seminars.  
Cameron and Joana both attended the SHPEP program at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, while Meghan was at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Claudia Oakes, associate professor of health sciences, encouraged them to apply, and all three students agreed that the program helped them refine their career choices.

The SHPEP program really made me understand why I’m so passionate about optometry."

Joana Lalaj, '20

“The SHPEP program really made me understand why I’m so passionate about optometry,” said Joana, who is enrolled in the 3+4 year accelerated health science/pre-optometry program. “It also made me feel more confident about pursuing my career choice and applying to graduate schools. I also enjoyed the family environment and getting the chance to create amazing relationships and memories.”

Cameron originally came to ENHP as a physical therapy student but then became interested in a career as a physician assistant (PA). “From the outside, you see what the medical profession is like on TV shows, but you don’t know what it’s really like on the inside. At SHPEP I talked to medical students and doctors who gave me the truth about graduate school. They told me it’ll be tough, but SHPEP really helped me solidify my decision to be a PA.”

Cameron noted that the program packed so much into a short time that it helped him refine his study skills, making him feel well-prepared for graduate school.

For Meghan, who is a health science/pre-pharmacy major, the opportunity to shadow clinical and community pharmacists was invaluable. She also appreciated expanding her network of connections by visiting the National Institutes of Health, the American Association of Medical Colleges, and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

“I loved the program’s mission statement that encourages leadership for minorities or those from underrepresented backgrounds,” Meghan said. “SHPEP also helped me gain insight about different health professional programs and career paths and improving health care to be more team-oriented. My experiences shadowing a community pharmacist helped me determine that I want to help those in underprivileged areas of pharmacy and focus on improving health disparities.”

This is the second year that ENHP students have participated in SHPEP. In 2017, Taylor Beverly ’20 and Sydney Lyncook ‘20 were selected for the program.  

“We are so proud of our students who demonstrate the skills that are needed to get the most out of the SHPEP program,” said Oakes. “They have come back more motivated than ever to do the hard work to achieve their professional goals.”

The application cycle for the summer 2019 SHPEP program opens Dec. 1. More information is available at:

Joana Lalaj, a pre-optometry student, spent the summer studying at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

Cameron McFarlane (right), who is planning to become a physician assistant, studied at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

Meghan Becerril, a pre-pharmacy student, studied at Howard University in Washington, DC last summer.