Newest Scholars Say MARS Program Offers What They Need to Pursue Career as a Urologist

Aymara Evans, a medical student at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, knew she needed more research experience to improve her chances of acceptance into a U.S. urology residency program. The first member of her family to go to medical school, she was looking not only to publish her first paper but to find support and guidance in her pursuit of a career as a urologist. 

MARS SCHOLARS 2024 - Aymara Evans - Ranjith Ramasamy - Alexandra Varnum - David Velasquez
From left, Aymara Evans, Ranjith Ramasamy, M.D., Alexandra Varnum and David Velasquez

“I felt it was very important to be in an environment where I could be myself and be able to count on people togo to bat for me,” Evans said. 

Evans said she found what she needed and more as one of three 2023-2024 recipients of Miami Andrology Research Scholar (MARS) fellowships for underrepresented students such as minorities and women. The program is based in the Desai Sethi Urology Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. 

Preparing Diverse Students for Challenges Ahead

Ranjith Ramasamy, M.D.

“Urology is one of the most competitive and rigorous specialties in the field of medicine,” said Ranjith Ramasamy, M.D., associate professor of clinical urology in the Miller School’s Department of Urology and a specialist in disorders of male infertility and sexual dysfunction at the Desai Sethi Urology Institute at UHealth. “This surgical and clinical discipline requires a strong academic foundation, exceptional manual dexterity and a deep understanding of complex urinary and reproductive system conditions.”

Dr. Ramasamy, who leads the MARS program and personally mentors scholars, said the competition for urology residency positions is intense, with some 500 urology applicants seeking to fill about 325 available spots in the U.S. each year. 

“Urology applicants typically need to demonstrate skill, exceptional dedication and comprehensive understanding of the field to secure a coveted residency position,” he noted. “We created the MARS program to expose students to urologic research and care and to mentor them as they navigate their journeys to residency.”

An Array of Inspiring Experiences

MARS fellow Alex Varnum, a medical student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said she applied tothe program because of the range of experiences offered. Urology’s varied options, from research to surgical and clinical care, drew her to the specialty. 

So did the people.

“In my experience, urologists are generally well-rounded and fun to be around,” Varnum said. “The surgeries are really cool. There’s clinic time, so you get to spend a lot of time with patients. There’s definitely a continuity of care.”

MARS scholars with Dr. Ramasamy at the Desai Sethi Urology Institute

The MARS fellowship offers Varnum an opportunity to get the hands-on research experience she felt she needs to be a competitive candidate for residency programs, as well as clinic and operating room exposure. She said she also spends time with Miller School fellows, residents and students. 

“It’s very collaborative,” Varnum said. “There’s a lot going on, with all sorts of interesting projects. It was really a no-brainer.”

MARS fellow and University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine student David Velasquez said the program’s mentoring opportunities are especially important to him. 

“As a first-generation college and medical student, I know that urology is a competitive and rigorous surgical subspecialty,” Velasquez said. “I wanted the support system and mentorship to solidify my interest in urology while continuing to develop my own research pursuits.

“From my interview with Dr. Ramasamy, I had a gut feeling that this level of mentorship was unique. He purposely designed MARS for students like Alex, Aymara and me to promote diversity in urology.”

MARS plays a crucial role in supporting aspiring urologists, particularly those who are first-generation college students, according to Dr. Ramasamy. 

Multidimensional Learning to Meet Career Goals

He noted that the program’s broad clinical exposure incorporates a multidimensional approach that ensures students gain a well-rounded understanding of urology, enhancing their competitiveness in the field. 

“The mentorship we provide is an invaluable aspect of career development, especially in highly competitive specialties like urology,” Dr. Ramasamy added. “MARS recognizes the importance of mentorship and offers guidance from experienced professionals, helping students navigate the complexities of the field, refine their skills and make informed decisions about their career paths.”

The program’s networking opportunities are also key. 

“Urology is a close-knit community, and having access to mentors and peers who can provide guidance and support is a game-changer for these students,” Dr. Ramasamy said. “MARS not only facilitates learning but fosters connections within the urology community, which can be instrumental in securing residency positions and advancing one’s career.”

The program’s personalized support addresses the unique challenges underrepresented students may face and offers tailored assistance to ensure they are well-prepared and confident in their pursuit of a urology career, Dr. Ramasamy said.

“When I had my interview with Dr. Ramasamy, I was really nervous, but he was so relaxed,” Evans recalled. “He shared that he felt lonely during his own journey through academia and his belief in the importance of collaboration. MARS seems to be one of a very few programs that are specifically geared toward nurturing underrepresented students in urology.”

Now in its third year, the yearlong scholarship program creates an opportunity to implement diversity into the field of urology, said Lisa Abbie Paz, LMFT, Ph.D. Paz is on the board of the Ricardo Puente Family Foundation, which funds the MARS program at the Miller School. 

“America continues to be a melting pot,” Dr. Paz said, “and our health care system and its providers should reflect that. Especially when dealing with sensitive topics of reproduction, sexual health and the like, patients should feel connected and comfortable.

“The Ricardo Puente Family Foundation supports South Florida medical and educational endeavors, and Dr. Ramasamy, the University of Miami, and MARS align with our giving goals. Our collaboration has been successful and rewarding.”

Dr. Paz noted that Ricardo Puente is a Cuban-born immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child and built a publishing powerhouse. “Ricardo Puente’s professional ethics during his career centered around supporting diversity and creating opportunity,” she said. “The MARS program blends all of these values in one place.”

Tags: Desai Sethi Urology Institute, Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy, medical education, Miami Andrology Research Scholars