Med school REACH-ing out to minorities
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.
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