What Responsibilities Do We Have as Student-Doctors to Give Back to Younger Minority Students

Sarah Ann Anderson
M.D./Ph.D. Candidate, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

“As of 2006, 28.8 percent of the U.S. population was black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino, or Native-American, yet these groups accounted for only 14.6 percent of medical school graduates. Nationwide, only six percent of practicing physicians are members of these groups.”

Upon reading these statistics, one may be surprised, shocked and even startled at the shear scarcity of medical school graduates and physicians of color. However, what ought to be more startling is that the Association of American Medical Colleges reports that black men made up only 2.2% of all medical school graduates in 2007. The dearth of black men in medicine begs the question of why the numbers are so low and what can be done to change the present situation. As active participants in the medical field, we know firsthand the difficulties and financial burdens of applying to medical school and excelling through the curriculum following our acceptance and matriculation. Our current perspective on the arduous tasks that abound at the level of medical education presumes that black men who achieve admission have already overcome innumerable sociological factors that would have otherwise deterred them at earlier points in their education. Although there are institutional issues that must be addressed, we must tap into our own resources to increase the numbers of black men in medical school. One method through which we may accomplish this task is the peer support system. The support system concept itself is not unfamiliar to the African-American community, but the use of the peer support system may offer a new tool for recruiting and retaining black men in medicine. Two models, The Posse Foundation, Inc.  and the story of “The Pact,” have shown peer support systems to be powerful in their ability to create unique leaders that can transform the field of medicine to represent the diverse cultures that it serves.

The Posse Foundation
“If I had my posse with me, I would’ve never dropped out of college” – The Posse Foundation, Inc.

The Posse Foundation, Inc. was founded in 1989 with the goal of creating a group of students that would attend college together and collectively form the rungs of a supportive network amongst themselves. The idea was initially conceived by a student that believed that if his “posse” went with him to college, he would have had the support needed to succeed. This statement alone inspired the programs founder Deborah Bial to create the foundation. The program identifies high school students, mostly underrepresented minorities, through a rigorous application process.  Those who are accepted undergo an intensive eight months of pre-college preparation. A group of scholars that have completed their preparatory curriculum is sent to a single college, with each of the group’s members receiving a full four-year scholarship. By directing its students’ entry into higher education, the program establishes group support and produces resilient students that are prepared to become leaders at the university level and beyond. This program has shown that the face of leadership can be changed by tapping into the power that lies within the students themselves. If such a program were to be modified for black men interested in medicine with the same financial and professional support, it is strongly possible that we can begin to change the statistics.  The Pact of Drs. Davis, Hunt and Jenkins is evidence of this.

The Pact
“To some of our medical colleagues, they are just nameless thugs, perpetuating crime and death in neighborhoods that have seen far too much of those things. But when we look into their faces, we see ourselves as teenagers, we see our friends, we see what we easily could have become as young adults.” – The Pact

Drs. Samson Davis, Rameck Hunt, and George Jenkins identified early on the power of positive peer pressure. Growing up Newark, New Jersey and exposed to the pressures and lure of the street, the young men made a pact at the age of 16 that they would go to Seton Hall University together to pursue pre-medical and dental careers. The goal was to inspire and assist each other in overcoming the hurdles and obstacles that come along with pursuing higher education as black man. Their plan succeeded. Currently, all three have completed their medical and dental studies as wells as residencies and are true testaments of the fundamental dynamics of interpersonal relationships. The story of their undeniable bond that ultimately led to their success is recorded in their three books: We Beat the Streets: How a Friendship Lead to Success, The Pact, and most recently, The Bond. They have also ventured into philanthropy with the Three Doctors Foundation, whose goal is to establish the same positive peer pressure mentoring and networks that these men established amongst themselves.  Within each other they found the key to success and an incomparable support network that has enhanced their lives. The same pressures that we lament are powerful enough to deter black men from higher education is just as powerful when used to compel black men towards positive goals. As the three physicians noted in The Pact, “the wrong friends can lead you to trouble. But even more, they can tear down hopes, dreams, and possibilities. We know, too, that the right friends inspire you, pull you through, [and] rise with you.”

Conclusion
As aspiring physicians we are now in a position in which we are responsible for helping to change the statistics. These two models show that some of the best role models and sources of inspiration are your own colleagues. It is essential that we instill in black men confidence in themselves and each other. Truly, African-American men are a unique entity with amazing insight that has undoubtedly transformed medicine and will continue to do so. However, these successes were not done singularly but done in a consortium. Thus, for the numbers to change, we must herald the peer support system as professionals and as a primary method of ensuring the success of our young black men. In turn, young black men aspiring to go into medicine will know and appreciate that their fellow peers “ain’t heavy, they are their brothers.”

This article first appeared in Fall 2008 JSNMA, Volume 14, number 4

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