Showing Minority Students What's Possible

April 16, 2018 12:29 pm David Mitchell

Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., didn't have to look far to find a mentor in medicine. Her father is a family physician.

[Headshot of Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D.]

"I grew up with it," she said. "It was never a question. I was going to be a family physician."

Few minorities are as fortunate. Although blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans represented roughly 25 percent of the population in the 2000 census, those groups accounted for less than 7 percent of the physician workforce in 2004.

Matthews, deputy executive director of provider relations and services in the Office of Community Care at the Veterans Health Administration in Washington, D.C., and Alden Landry, M.D., M.P.H., an emergency medicine physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Harvard University, were officers for the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) when they began discussing ways to recruit more minorities to the physician workforce.

"We felt we weren't able to reach a broader audience because students in SNMA had already gotten the message," she said. "We wanted to reach students who weren't even contemplating medical careers. We thought, 'Let's get on a bus with our colleagues and reach some of these students.' That's exactly what we've done."

The Tour for Diversity in Medicine,(tour4diversity.org) which counts the AAFP among its sponsors, hit the road for the first time in 2012. Since then, the group of doctors, dentists and pharmacists has visited 37 campuses, reaching more than 3,000 students. A diverse group of more than three dozen health professionals volunteer their time to the cause.

Matthews said the organization strives to present a mix of race, gender and specialties because "we want students to see themselves in us."

She said the mentors share their stories, including the fact that many of them were discouraged from pursuing medical careers.

"Minority students get significant pushback when they express an interest in medicine," she said. "We try to instill in them that if it's something they want to do, let's find a way to make it happen. The most frequent comments I've heard are, 'I didn't know this was possible, but now I believe it is,' and 'I have never seen black and Hispanic doctors like you.'"

The Tour for Diversity in Medicine will be back on the road this fall. Until then, the organization is using webinars, blogs and social media to reach students.

"You have to speak to students on their terms," Matthews said. "We're trying to do that."