Dedicated Wheels Turn Black Students into Practicing Physicians


Dentist. Doctor. Surgeon. In a country where dreams are like wings, a new cadre of students is soaring as the next generation of promising health professionals.

The group meets protégés where they are — on campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and in high schools largely based in medically underserved communities.

Physicians Alden M. Landry, 31, and Kameron Leigh Matthews, 33, launched their “get on the bus” style Tour for Diversity in Medicine to promote health professions to underrepresented students throughout the country.

A pledge to “give back” has fueled the passions of the two former medical students, who have translated their commitment to mentoring into opportunity on wheels. The branded motor bus is literally on a roll, traveling to sometimes unlikely places to reach, teach and inspire.

“We recognize that many of the students we reach may not have the resources or inclination to come to recruitment fairs,” said Matthews, who has earned both J.D. and M.D. degrees. The pair seek to reach people in their comfort zone to explain that dreams beyond their immediate reach are attainable.

Tour for Diversity is a project of Hip Hop Health, Inc., a nonprofit organization that Landry launched to blend social media and health education to reach and inspire the Hip Hop generation. The bus tour was the brainchild of Matthews and Landry, both leaders of the Student National Medical Association. The association is the student branch of the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest professional society of African-American physicians.

Landry is a 2000 alumnus of the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, formerly the Minority Medical Education Program, a free enrichment program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The six-week academic initiative provides rising college freshman and sophomores from disadvantaged backgrounds with a timely introduction to the rigorous preparation required to pursue careers in medicine or dentistry. The program operates at 12 university sites with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session.

“The program jumpstarted my commitment to becoming a physician by showing me what it takes to get into medical school early—so I could get on track to realize my dreams,” Landry recalls.

The recruitment drive for summer 2013 participants will open Nov. 1 and will continue to accept applications through March 1. For more information, visit www.smdep.org.

SMDEP 12 site locations include:
· Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio)
· Columbia University (New York, N.Y.)
· Duke University (Durham, N.C.)
· Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
· University of California-Los Angeles (Los Angeles, Calif.)
· UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical and New Jersey Dental (Newark, N.J.)
· University of Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)
· University of Nebraska (Omaha, Neb.)
· University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.)
· University of Washington (Seattle, Wash.)
· University of Texas-Houston (Houston, Texas)
· Yale University (New Haven, Conn.)

Insufficient financial resources, coupled with an uncertainty about how to prepare for a medical future, are two major barriers for prospective students. SMDEP helps to fill gaps and inspire success by working to increase diversity in the health care workforce.

“Diverse perspectives reflected in our dental and medical professions are necessary for a better patient experience,” explains the program’s National Program Officer Norma Poll-Hunter, PhD, co-deputy director for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “SMDEP brings talent that’s not traditionally represented in our medical and dental school applicant pools.”

Landry, an emergency medicine physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, agrees. “Without a more diverse workforce, the current health disparities will persist, if not worsen.”

Current trends in the health care workforce point to the need for sustained recruitment to yield a more diverse pool of candidates in medical and dental schools. While minorities represent 26 percent of the U.S. population, less than 6 percent of American Indians, Blacks and Hispanics collectively are physicians or dentists, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

The Tour for Diversity fall outreach (September 24-29, 2012) included six universities between Atlanta and Dearborn, Mich. The next tour in February 2013 will take them to several Texas college campuses. Landry, Matthews and other physician mentors share personal insights and advice on what prospective candidates can expect to help debunk fears of “I’m not smart enough.”

“Our purpose is to emphasize to students the importance of early exposure, advising and mentorship,” says Matthews.

For more on Tour for Diversity in Medicine, visit http://tour4diversity.org/. You can read updates on their Voices of Diversity blog at http://tour4diversity.org/category/blog/. Join them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Dedicated Wheels Turn Black Students into Practicing Physicians

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