Texas’ Joint Admission Medical Program: Opening med school doors for socioeconomically disadvantaged students

By Nayeli Fuentes
February 05, 2024

As the end of my fourth year of medical school approaches, I’ve taken the time to reflect on the journey that brought me to this point. A journey that began back in 1992, when my parents made the difficult decision to immigrate to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs and hearts full of dreams. A journey that continued to be possible because of the Joint Admission Medical Program — a program that understands the importance of bridging the gap in educational opportunities for underprivileged students like me pursuing a medical education.

My parents were born and raised in Mexico — a country that struggles with poverty, limited access to education, and crime. Tired of the economic and personal circumstances they lived in, they decided to immigrate to the United States and pursue their American dream. However, this dream proved to be much more difficult to achieve. Due to not speaking English, a lack of financial resources to pursue higher education, and job instability, they struggled to make ends meet. Despite these challenges, my parents never failed to emphasize the importance of hard work, resilience, and pursuing my dreams, even if they seemed impossible. Above all, they instilled in me that education was the most powerful tool for breaking the cycle of poverty.

Because of these values and the help of my community, I graduated as valedictorian from Mount Pleasant High School in 2016. This granted me a full ride to college. As I enrolled in classes for my first semester, I knew I wanted to become a physician. Seeing firsthand the health care disparities my family faced due to our low socioeconomic status and lack of insurance served as a powerful motivator to pursue this career. I found myself at yet another road block. I didn’t know what I needed to do to apply to medical school. A quick Google search said I should get experience shadowing, take a test called the MCAT, and get letters of recommendation, among other things.

Desperately, I began calling local clinics hoping for shadowing or volunteer opportunities, but to no avail. Every phone call I made was met with a hard “no.” For me however, giving up was not an answer. I turned to Google once again and searched how to become a doctor in Texas as a first-generation student. It was then that I learned about the Joint Admission Medical Program.

The Fuentes family. Back row: Angelica Flores, Jose Angel Fuentes, Angelica Fuentes, Nayeli Fuentes, Jose Luis Fuentes, and Virginia Fuentes. Front row: Hernan Fuentes and Osvaldo Fuentes

On their website, I read that JAMP was designed to support and encourage highly qualified, economically disadvantaged students in the state of Texas pursuing a medical education. If admitted, the program facilitated early admission to one of 13 participating medical schools in Texas, and provided various resources including scholarships, MCAT prep vouchers, mentorship, and summer internships.

Although I saw that only 100 students were selected every year from all across the state, I decided to take a chance and apply. I submitted my application, was invited for an interview, and in February of 2018, I received an email stating that I was one of the 100 students selected. From that day forward, my life changed dramatically.

Thanks to JAMP, I had the opportunity to shadow a family medicine physician for the very first time. I learned about the importance of continuity of care, preventive medicine, and advocacy for public health initiatives. I gained mentors that provided me with studying tips for medical school courses. I left the program understanding that although the next four years of medical school would be challenging, I was equipped with all the academic resources, financial resources, and mentorship I needed to succeed.

My story is just one of thousands of first-generation students looking for a door to open. I urge each and every one of you to be that door for students that come after me.

Despite being a JAMP alumni throughout the last four years of medical school, the program never made me feel alone. Dr. Felix Morales, current JAMP Council Chair, continued to be a guiding light in this seemingly dark journey to becoming a physician as a first-generation student. My story is just one of thousands of first-generation students looking for a door to open.

I urge each and every one of you to be that door for students that come after me. Whether it is by contacting the JAMP representative closest to you or the administration in Austin, let a student join you and learn from you. Take them with you on your journey and allow them to get a glimpse of the impact you are making in your community.

I can confidently say that without JAMP, I would not have learned the importance of advocating for diversifying medicine, health equity, and mentorship in higher education. Without JAMP, I would not have afforded to apply to medical school or pay for the MCAT. This program quite literally changed my life and is the reason I sit here today, four months away from graduating as the first doctor in my family and finally breaking the cycle of poverty.

For more information, visit www.texasjamp.org. To volunteer, contact JAMP at info@texasjamp.org.

Nayeli Fuentes is a fourth-year medical student at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine.