Challenges Facing First-Generation College Graduates in Medical School: A Qualitative Analysis

Catherine Havemann*, Hyacinth R.C. Mason, Regina G. Russell, Alejandra Casillas, Mytien Nguyen, Dowin Boatright, Alexis Webber, Jon Andre Parilla, Abraham Gallegos, Tasha R. Wyatt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Importance: First-generation (FG) medical students remain underrepresented in medicine despite ongoing national efforts to increase diversity; understanding the challenges faced by this student population is essential to building holistic policies, practices, and learning environments that promote professional actualization. Although FG students have been extensively studied in the undergraduate literature, there is little research investigating how FG students experience medical education or opportunities for educators to intervene. Objective: To explore challenges that FG students experience in undergraduate medical education and identify opportunities to improve foundational FG support. Design, Setting, and Participants: This qualitative study was conducted using an online platform with 37 FG students enrolled in 27 US medical schools. An interprofessional team of medical educators and trainees conducted semistructured interviews from November 2021 through April 2022. Participants were recruited using a medical student listserv. Data were analyzed from April to November 2022. Main Outcomes and Measures: After conducting a preliminary analysis using open coding, a codebook was created and used in a thematic analysis; the codebook used a combination of deductive and inductive coding. Results: Among the 37 students recruited for this study, 21 (56.8%) were female; 23 (62.2%) were in the clinical phase of training; 1 (2.7%) was American Indian or Alaska Native, 7 (18.9%) were Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin, 8 (21.6%) were non-Hispanic Asian or Asian American, 9 (24.3%) were non-Hispanic Black or African American, and 23 (32.4%) were non-Hispanic White; mean (SD) age was 27.3 (2.8) years. Participants described 4 major themes: (1) isolation and exclusion related to being a newcomer to medicine; (2) difficulty with access to basic resources (eg, food, rent, transportation) as well as educational (eg, books); (3) overall lack of faculty or institutional support to address these challenges; and (4) a sense of needing to rely on grit and resilience to survive. Conclusions and Relevance: Although grit and resilience are desirable traits, results of this study suggest that FG medical students face increased adversity with inadequate institutional support, which forces them to excessively rely on grit and resilience as survival (rather than educational) strategies. By applying the holistic model often used in admissions to the postmatriculation educational process, targeted and flexible initiatives can be created for FG students so that all students, regardless of background, can achieve robust professional actualization..

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2347528
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number12
StatePublished - 13 Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


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