Tour for Diversity Inspires Minority Students to Pursue Medicine
AAMC Reporter: June 2012
—By Whitney L.J. Howell, special to the Reporter
At Mississippi’s Jackson State University campus, roughly 160 undergraduate students gathered last February to learn about the ins and outs of medical school—applying, financing, and navigating the curricula. Most important however, they discovered that becoming a doctor is within reach.
The experience was part of a five-day campaign, known as the Tour for Diversity in Medicine (T4D), a bus tour that brings information about academic medicine and clinical practice to students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The tour also includes information for students interested in dentistry.
“We wanted to make sure these events had a personal component to them. We, as physicians and medical students, go to campuses, sit with students, and have conversations about their personal and academic lives,” said Alden Landry, M.D., M.P.H., T4D co-founder. “It’s more personal than a webinar, Web site, or newsletter. We wanted to meet the students where they are comfortable so they could see us as examples in front of them.”
Landry is an emergency medicine instructor and associate director for the office of multicultural affairs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts. Along with Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., an attending physician at Cermak Health Services of Cook County in Chicago, Landry created the tour to introduce health and medical careers to minority students with the goal of increasing the number of doctors and dentists from groups that are underrepresented in medicine and other health professions.
Academic medicine continues to make progress toward growing a more diverse student body, but programs like T4D still are important, said Norma Poll-Hunter, Ph.D., director for diversity programs and policies at the AAMC.
“It’s critical to take this innovative approach to reach out to underserved communities. Despite concerted efforts from medical schools, associations, and foundations, the overall percentage of racial and ethnic minorities matriculating to M.D.-granting institutions hasn’t changed significantly in the past 10 years,” Poll-Hunter said.
T4D completed its first tour in February, visiting five HBCUs: Jackson State, Tuskegee University in Alabama, South Carolina State University, Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, and Hampton University in Virginia. All told, the tour reached approximately 500 students and provided information on how to prepare for and take the Medical College Admission Test®, which undergraduate courses to take to strengthen medical school applications, and how to finance medical education.
But the most significant information, according to Matthews, came from the nine mentors she and Landry recruited. The group of practicing physicians representing minority groups traveled with the tour and offered students first-hand experiences from both school and practice.
“They hammered home that there’s a sense of delayed gratification with medical school. It’s a marathon in terms of the steps from application to becoming a physician or dentist,” Matthews said. “You need to look at this as a long-term career and not be swayed so much by what it takes to get through school. The students got the hint that we did it, and they could persevere to do it, too.”
The information students gathered and the skills they learned through T4D undoubtedly will contribute to increasing the number of minority students who enter medicine, said Michael Druitt, who coordinates pre-health programs and a medical science master’s degree program at Hampton University. The mentors offered tips on how students can improve their interview performances and how they can build rapport with practicing health care professionals, he said. These relationships could lead to shadowing experiences that bolster medical school applications.
Bridget Rideau, M.D., Jackson State’s pre-med and pre-nursing coordinator, said the T4D inspired several of her students to begin actively taking the path toward medical school.
“Many of our students latched onto information about the National Health Service Scholarship. I’ve already filled out five recommendation letters to accompany applications,” Rideau said. “This is especially significant for our students coming from lower-income families who are fearful of how to pay for additional education.”
Student feedback from this year’s tour has been overwhelmingly positive, Landry said, and the program has already scheduled a Midwest tour for this fall and another tour across Texas in spring 2013. HBCUs will continue to be a focus, but upcoming tours also will concentrate on Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, and regions that have few minority physicians and dentists.