The press release I received by email mentioned a program taking place this past Saturday at Georgetown University that introduces high school minority men and women to careers as physicians. Since I write about public education and I work in healthcare I thought this might be an interesting event, and so my wife Michele and I decided to stop by.
What we discovered was a hidden pearl. We were introduced to two of perhaps the most upbeat positive community-minded people you will ever meet. The founders of the Tour for Diversity in Medicine became acquainted with each other when they both held leadership positions in the Student National Medical Association. Talk about overachievers. Kameron Matthews, M.D. is a family physician who runs a health center in Chicago serving underprivileged Latinos. Before assuming this position she was the doctor for the 10,000 inmates of the Cook County Department of Corrections. Dr. Matthews earned her medical degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also an attorney, obtaining her law degree from the University of Chicago. In her spare time Dr. Matthews serves on the board of directors of Polaris Center Academy, an expeditionary learning charter school like D.C.’s Two Rivers and Capital City Public Charter Schools.
Alden Landry received his medical degree from the University of Alabama. He is an emergency room physician at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Dr. Landry’s academic appointments include being a member of the senior faculty at the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Associate Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Faculty Assistant Director of the Office of Diversity Inclusion and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Landry received a Masters in Public Health from Harvard Medical Center. He is also the founder of Hip Hop Health, Inc.
The physicians decided to create Tour for Diversity in Medicine to directly address the issue of the lack of underrepresented minorities in medicine. Speaking to me in between seminars they explained that in the United States there are about 47,000 medical school slots, but less than a third of these are held by African-Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans. Currently in the medical field African-Americans make up three percent of the profession while Latinos only comprise one percent. This is in spite of the fact that these two groups currently account for 41 percent of the U.S. population.
Georgetown University is part of the second tour of the year for the two founders along with 14 other physician mentors. There are a total of 23 doctors who have agreed to give up their vacation time to participate with the group. The Tour for Diversity organizes college tours twice a year for a week in a particular region across the country. They attract about 150 students on each school visit. This is the first time since the tours began in 2012 that the program has been centered on high school students; the other campus visits have focused on college undergraduates.
The goal, according to Drs. Matthews and Landry, is to overcome several obstacles to minorities entering the medical field. For example, these young adults may be the first in their families to graduate from high school or go to college. They explained that there are also strong financial obstacles to going to medical school. Finally, they remarked that while affluent families often talk to their children about becoming doctors, this is a conversation that may never take place among the population with which they are working.
During the full-day program the students learn about preparing academically for medical school, are taught about modeling healthy lifestyles for their patients, and even have the opportunity to perform some basic health screening procedures such as taking blood pressure readings and completing neurological and ophthalmological exams. There was a well attended seminar for parents which taught methods for supporting children who decide to go into medicine as a career. Over 70 students participated in Saturday’s program which is supported by over $200,000 in grants from the Aetna Foundation and the U.S. Army
Is there value in the efforts of these physicians? Well if our experience with one student is any guide then these doctors should be awarded a prize. My wife and I spoke to Angela Moorer, an eleventh grader at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland. She revealed that her parents received an email suggesting medicine as a possible career after this young woman scored exceptionally well on the PSAT examination. Ms. Moorer currently has a 3.9 grade point average while enrolled in three Advanced Placement Courses. The perfectly articulate high school student explained that her mother is a nurse practitioner who used to work in a hospital. She excitedly remarked that she thoroughly enjoyed the day’s classes in improving time management and study skills. The workshops, Ms. Moorer stated, reinforced her desire to major in biology and go on to medical school to eventually become a neonatologist. She learned of the Tour for Diversity in Medicine through the group’s outreach to local high schools. Let’s all thank our lucky stars that they did.