Youth Need Minority Physicians to be Role Models, Mentors
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” -- Marie Wilson of the White House Project.
Wilson was speaking of women in leadership and our need for successful role models, but the statement holds true for young people of all races and both genders. In my years as a family physician and mentor, I have learned that minority children don't often see physicians who look like them.
Although African Americans account for more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, only 4 percent of our nation's doctors are black, according to the AMA. The numbers are similar for Hispanics, who account for 16.3 percent of the population and 5 percent of physicians.
The numbers are unlikely to change significantly any time soon. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, African Americans and Hispanics accounted for 7 and 8 percent, respectively, of medical school applications last year.
For youth in underserved communities, including here in Chicago, exposure to the world of opportunities is critical to their future success. They need to know they have a broader range of career options that can include -- but not be limited to -- sports or media. They actually need to see the role models and mentors in the health professions who look like them and are providing services in our communities, particularly where there is such a great need.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, our Urban Health Program offers a comprehensive program designed to expose local students to the medical profession. This program aims to attract historically underrepresented minority students to medical careers and encourage them to work in underserved areas as we strive to reduce health disparities in our state.
Health Career Opportunity Programs, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, have been established at high schools throughout Chicago to highlight professions in health and biomedical sciences.
The University of Illinois Early Outreach Program brings hundreds of junior high and high school students to campus on Saturdays. They are exposed to all of the health professional college programs (medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health and allied health), and those young people have opportunities to interact with medical students and residents and other health professional students.
The UIC College of Medicine Urban Health Program also co-hosts a medical career day each year for high school students with an interest in health sciences. This event includes labs, demonstrations, workshops and panel discussions with medical students.
Of course, that's just one example at one college/institution.
Last year in Sacramento, Calif., Sutter Health
Family Medicine Residency Program and the University of California-Davis Health
System Family Medicine Residency teamed up with the California AFP to produce
the Future Faces of Family Medicine
project, which brought family medicine residents together with 20 Sacramento
High School students -- many from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds
-- who are interested in medical careers.
A four-month course on primary care included CPR certification, visiting a simulation lab, attending an obstetric delivery workshop, learning how to perform a physical exam and more.
The program is returning for a second year in Sacramento, and the CAFP plans to roll out the program to two additional cities this year. The CAFP hopes to have resources available for residency programs, including those in other states, available by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, a mentoring opportunity might come to you. The Tour for Diversity in Medicine recently made six stops at colleges in the South and Midwest. The tour, which is supported by the AAFP and others, is designed to promote medicine and dentistry to undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups. Organizers recruited physicians from the local communities to serve on panels so that students could hear their stories, get their perspectives and be inspired by their achievements and the obstacles they have overcome.
But being a role model in any of our communities doesn't have to be as complicated as replicating a residency program initiative or joining a bus tour. Being a role model can be as simple as visiting our local schools, talking to students about what we do, the importance of academic success and what it takes to be a doctor, and letting them shadow us for a day.
Yes, it costs time. However, the return on investment is tremendous. We can and must do more.
The AMA has developed a program that encourages physicians to talk to children about careers in medicine. Doctors Back to School provides physicians with resources, including instructions on giving a presentation.
The AAFP, with the AMA's approval, is in the process of developing a similar program and resources specifically for primary care physicians.
Our communities need family physicians to be active role models. Tell your story. Make a difference!
Javette Orgain, M.D., M.P.H., is the vice speaker of the AAFP's Congress of Delegates.