Students of color meet medical mentors
Program partners kids with doctors for role models
Abigail Sapp’s Saturday mornings are usually reserved for basketball practice, but the opportunity to meet with professionals doing the work she aspires to do was tempting enough to draw her off the court.
“I want to be a doctor to help people,” the 12-yearold said.
Abigail’s mother, Angela Higgins, often brings her daughter to work with her at her job as a program manager at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Abigail also accompanied her mom as Higgins cared for her aging parents, including her dad who died earlier this year.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot to make sure she rises above any stereotype or discouragement she’ll find,” Higgins said.
Abigail was among 160 middle and high school students who attended the Mentoring to Medicine program at Bayor College of Medicine on Saturday. The event, hosted by the Houston chapter of the African-American advocacy group 100 Black Men in partnership with MD Anderson, aimed to pair
young students of color with physicians and mentors.
MD Anderson oncologist Vivian Harris Porche, a native of the Third Ward and an alumna of Lamar High School, said the lack of black role models is just one of many obstacles these young scholars will face pursuing careers in medicine.
“Even though it’s 2017, we still have racism and sexism — but it’s also classism and a lack of economic opportunities,” said Harris Porche, who earned her medical degree at the Univeristy of Texas at Austin’s McGovern Medical School before becoming the first black woman professor at MD Anderson.
Porche’s three children attended St. John’s School, Strake Jesuit and Houston ISD’s Lamar High and DeBakey High School for Health Care Professions, but the public school system in which she came up, Harris Porche said, is tilted against economically disadvantaged children — especially minority students.
“Sending my kids to private school, I was paying for the privilege of picking up the phone and having someone listen to my complaints,” she said. “These kids need to see people that look like them succeed.”
A 2014 study by the American Association of Medical Colleges found that the number of black men applying for placements in medical schools dropped since 1978 — spurring 100 Black Men to create mentorship programs for black and minority students looking to pursue a medical career.
“We want these kids to see a medical school; we want them to see physicians who look like them,” said Karif Carroll, 100 Black Men’s health and wellness committee chair.
African-Americans lead several racial groups in health disparities, Carroll said, and all too often have poor access to quality health care. By putting them on a pipeline to a medical career, the gap could be closed by members of the affected community.
Above all, Carroll said, the program by 100 Black Men is putting students face to face with black mentors, some the first physicians in their families or the first to attend college, and gives them something visible to aspire to.
James Phillips, a former Navy medic at Case Western Reserve University, was brought to Baylor College of Medicine in 1993 to improve diversity in a school where no black student had completed the combined Medical Doctor/ Ph.D. research program.
Phillips, now the director of diversity and inclusion at Baylor College of Medicine, brought the rate up to nine graduates in his tenure there, with three currently enrolled in the program.
Mentoring to Medicine looks to grow in the future. The program will continue to partner with MD Anderson and Baylor in the coming years, Caroll said.
“This can have a profound impact,” said speaker George Williams, an anesthesiologist at Memorial Hermann Hospital. “They want to see people of color doing what they dream of. It makes the dream tangible.”
Yandy Zambrano, center, 13, listens to a presentation during the “Mentoring to Medicine” program on Saturday.
Drs. Vivian Harris Porche and Abenaa Brewster embrace each other at the Mentoring to Medicine program on Saturday.