Med school REACH-ing out to mi­nori­ties

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LOCAL - BY JON O’CON­NELL STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: jo­con­nell@timessham­rock.com; 570348-9131; @jon_oc on Twit­ter

Charles Bay’s par­ents left Nige­ria for At­lanta be­fore he was born. Their im­mi­grant sta­tus meant he had a bet­ter chance of drop­ping out than fin­ish­ing grad­u­ate school.

He’s 29 now, and pur­su­ing his sec­ond master’s de­gree, this time in bio­med­i­cal science sat the Geisinger Com­mon­wealth School of Medicine, where fac­ulty and ad­min­is­tra­tors are as­sem­bling a pro­gram to pre­vent stu­dents like him from slip­ping through the cracks.

Re­search shows black, His­panic and other mi­nor­ity stu­dents are more likely than their peers to walk away from science and tech­nol­ogy schools without a di­ploma.

Bay’s great­est ob­sta­cle was get­ting use­ful guid­ance, he said. As the first in his fam­ily to at­tend grad­u­ate school, he charted his own course.

“You learn on the fly, and some­times you get lucky and ev­ery­thing aligns,” he said. “And some­times you don’t.”

Well-mean­ing men­tors who didn’t un­der­stand his goals of­ten of­fered con­flict­ing ad­vice. He spent a lot of time spin­ning his wheels, he said. The same is true for many oth­ers with sim­i­lar back sto­ries.

Doc­tors and pro­gram lead­ers meet to­day to kick off the med­i­cal school’ s Health Eq­uity Group, a new pro­gram fu­eled by a $3.4 mil­lion grant from the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices to add more mi­nor­ity stu­dents. The pro g ram taps prac­tic­ing physi­cians from mi­nor­ity groups to serve as men­tors.

Ear­lier this year, HHS’ Health Re­sources & Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion awarded the grant to build on a pro­gram that has al­ready coached 700 middle school, high school and col­lege stu­dents on med­i­cal science ca­reers since it be­gan in 2011.

The Regional Ed­u­ca­tion Acad­emy for Ca­reers in Health-Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive, known as REACHHEI, will serve as a ba­sis for the eq­uity group.

“We think that our pro­gram, our REACH-HEI model, could be ex­tended to a point where we can cre­ate a pipe­line that has no leaks,” said Ida L. Cas­tro, the med­i­cal school’s chief di­ver­sity of­fi­cer. “We can help stu­dents that are first-gen­er­a­tion to col­lege and from un­der­served pop­u­la­tions to re­ally fo­cus on a ca­reer that seems so un­reach­able to them.”

Par­tic­i­pat­ing physi­cians will gather data and fine­tune the pro­gram so it can be repli­cated across the coun­try.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing un­der­rep­re­sented in med­i­cal pro- fes­sions, mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties also tend to have limited ac­cess to health ser­vices. But stud­ies show that health pro­fes­sion­als from dis­ad­van­taged neigh­bor­hoods eventu- ally re­turn to prac­tice in their home­towns, or go to places like them.

“What we know from re­search is if you come from a com­mu­nity, the chances that you will re­turn to your com­mu­nity or a com­mu­nity like yours to prac­tice is much higher than if you didn’t,” Cas­tro said.

Bay’s first master’s de­gree is in pub­lic health. He worked for a few years in the field be­fore de­cid­ing a med­i­cal de­gree would give him a more ful­filled ca­reer.

“I was for­tu­nate to pick up a lot of the skills that I did from work­ing in health care on the pub­lic health side,” he said, adding that whether he lands in Scran­ton af­ter school or back home in At­lanta, both cities have their share of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties with many of the same is­sues.

Charles Bay is a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Geisinger Com­mon­wealth School of Medicine in Scran­ton.

BUTCH COMEGYS / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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