Tour for Diversity in Medicine

Mentors Encourage Minority Undergrads in Quest to be Doctors, Dentists

October 02, 2012 05:50 pm Sheri Porter Nashville, Tenn. –

Young minority men and women may dream of becoming doctors and dentists, but how do you fill them with the energy, commitment and confidence they need to walk the long road to medical school and beyond? Give them a full day of face-to-face interaction with an experienced and energetic team of mentors who've trod the path recently enough to remember the anxiety, the fear and the glow of accomplishment.

That's exactly what happened at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 25, when the campus became the second stop in a six-day road trip for a grass-roots effort dubbed Tour for Diversity in Medicine(tour4diversity.org).

Family physician Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., who most recently served as a primary care physician for some 10,000 inmates at Chicago's Cook County Jail, and Alden Landry, M.D., M.P.H., who practices emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, cofounded -- and now codirect -- an organization that they hope will help open the spigot on the medical and dental school enrollment pipeline for underrepresented minorities.

It's no secret that diversity is lacking in the ranks of America's physicians and dentists.

story highlights

  • A grassroots effort dubbed "Tour for Diversity in Medicine" recently landed at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., for a day of mentoring undergraduate students interested in medical and dental careers.
  • Students were informed about a wide range of topics, from medical school application timelines to how to study for the Medical College Admissions Test.
  • A team of medical students, practicing physicians, a dentist and a college counselor served as mentors for the student participants.

According to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) titled Diversity in the Physician Workforce: Facts and Figures 2010(members.aamc.org), between 1978 and 2008, 75 percent of all U.S. medical school graduates practicing medicine were Caucasian. On the other hand, blacks, American Indians and Hispanics combined accounted for just 12.3 percent of the U.S. physician workforce. Just 6.3 percent of physicians were black.

"Increasing diversity in medical schools and among physicians -- as well as ensuring physicians are trained to be culturally competent -- have been cited as key strategies in addressing health care disparities," says the report.

Thus, the overall goal of the mentors traveling with the tour is simply this: to increase the number of minority physicians and dentists in the United States.

Matthews tells AAFP News Now that she and Landry first conceived of the tour when they were medical students. "In school, nobody took us seriously. We shopped the idea around … and heard more than once, 'Yeah, that's a great idea, but you'll never make it happen,'" she notes.

Finally, early in 2012, funding was provided by the Aetna Foundation and the U.S. Army. The AAMC, the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry and the AAFP serve as tour partners, and the Academy provides boxes of brochures, including one titled "2012 Admissions Guide for Pre-Medical Students and Advisors," and another called "Explore Family Medicine."

Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., co-founder, Tour for Diversity in Medicine

AAFP News Now recently sat down with family physician Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., to talk about an organization she co-founded called Tour for Diversity in Medicine. Listen to that audio interview.(6:22 minute MP3)

The big bus first hit the road in February 2012 with five day-long stops beginning at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., and ending at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. The current trip is the second tour of 2012 and represents a one-two punch that the co-founders intend to continue each year.

"We knew it was good idea," says Matthews. "We just didn't know it was this good. I have nine medical schools out there recruiting today," she adds, waving a hand at the Jubilee Hall foyer where tables are manned with recruiters.

Matthews notes that the tour has the support of the AAMC, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and the American Dental Education Association.

"The overarching structures of U.S. medical education are behind us and that speaks to the need for this, says Matthews. She smiles. "Plus it makes us (she and Landry) personally feel great about our idea."

A Day on the Tour

On this Tuesday morning, AAFP News Now stands by as the mentor team, comprising physicians of multiple specialties, a dentist, medical students and a college counselor eagerly await the arrival of the nearly 80 students who ultimately will share in this experience.

Fisk professors, understanding the importance of the event, rescheduled mid-term exams and released many students from class to attend the all-day event. Students from nearby Tennessee State University also are ushered through the door.

The participants -- a bit subdued early on -- are blitzed with information from the opening minutes.

Mentor Deidre Young, D.D.S., of Detroit, the only dentist on the tour this week, challenges students to live their dream. "Envision it, claim it and be what you want to be," she says.

The students are hit hard with facts about the logistics and planning of the medical school application process, admission factors and academic requirements. "Applying to medical school is a year-long process with a lot of tedious and anxious wait time," says Janae Currington, M.Ed., a preprofessional adviser at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and the only nonmedical mentor on the tour.

Tips about creating a well-rounded application with breadth and depth of activities, meeting strict application deadlines, using study aids and employing test-taking skills are provided rapid-fire throughout the morning. Students are brought up to speed on financial aid and practice mock interviews.

But it's the personal stories of struggle that grab these students as they begin to believe that the dream they have is an achievable goal.

For example, mentor Brandon Henry, a fourth-year medical student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., talks frankly about his failures. Henry spent seven years in undergraduate school and twice was kicked out for low grades. "I had a 2.5 GPA (grade point average) as an undergrad," he confesses. "If it takes some time to do this and do it right, that's all OK," he adds.

Co-founder Landry admits that his first experience with taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) was humbling. "I learned (the MCAT) was the great equalizer," he tells students. "I got my butt whooped. You have to train up to be able to take a test like this."

Arneshia Murphy, (left) of Little Rock, Ark., an undergraduate student at Tennessee State University, begins the day upbeat but unsure as to her plans to apply to medical school. "I'm here to get more information about different medical schools," she says.

The Students

Charles Virgill is a native of the Bahamas. This Fisk University senior says he is grateful for the opportunity to participate in today's sessions. "For sure I want to go into medicine, and this is a way for me to understand how to get there," he says.

Kristen Wardlow, a senior at Fisk, already plans to go to medical school after graduation. She is grateful to the mentors for giving their time and telling their stories. "They give me motivation," she says. Wardlow now understands the importance of building a timeline for the application process in which she soon will be immersed

Fisk senior Jacqualyn Favours puts it this way: "Now, instead of medical school just being an idea, it feels like a reality."

It's the middle of the afternoon, and the students' confidence is building as they revel in the opportunity to pepper the mentors with questions. They want to know more about these role models who seem so genuinely invested in the success of the students in front of them. And so the students raise their hands and get personal.

  • Do I need to be bilingual?
  • What about international travel and classes?
  • Would you have done anything differently?
  • How do you cope with making mistakes?
  • How did you deal with your first patient loss?

The answers come from heart. They are part informational and part inspirational. "Walk by faith, not by sight," says one mentor.

"Learn how to ask for help. You have to have people to keep you accountable and keep you strong," says another.

"Don't be afraid to pray in the operating room or pray with your patient," acknowledges a third. "And accept change, accept diversity."

Looking Ahead

It's the end of a long day, and Landry stops to chat just before hopping back on the bus to head to Kentucky State University in Frankfort for tomorrow's version of today. The faces in the audience will be different, but the commitment from the mentors won't change.

"We are re-energized," says Landry. "We reached about 500 students (during the) last tour, and we're shooting for 600 this time."

"No one gets into medical school on their own," he explains. "It takes a team of mentors and supporters. I had that, and I'm trying to supply that support network to students so they know their goal is achievable."

He pauses, and then notes that the large volume of e-mails he has received from students who've been personally touched by the tour -- as well as positive comments posted on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter -- "is anecdotal evidence that what we're doing is helping."

With that, he turns and heads to the bus, which also will stop this week at Indiana University in Bloomington; Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio; and the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

Twice-yearly bus tours already are tentatively set through the fall of 2015.


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