Tour for Diversity in Medicine meets goal to attract minorities

Doctors, dentists to visit five Historically Black Colleges in South to advise, mentor future health care providers this spring

JANS – Tour for Diversity in Medicine, a new initiative from several young Boston- and Chicago-based physicians, revved up for its inaugural bus tour in February to take 11 doctors, dentists and medical school students from minority populations to five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the South to offer a full day of premedical enrichment activities to the schools’ students.

Made possible with a $210,000 award from the Aetna Foundation, Tour for Diversity in Medicine aimed to provide college students of color with a wide range of information and advice to plan for careers in medicine and dentistry and ultimately diversify the health care profession. Although minority populations comprise more than 26 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans combined represent only about 6 percent of practicing physicians and 5 percent of dentists.

Alden Landry, M.D., an emergency room physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and co-director of Tour for Diversity in Medicine, said, “Our goal is to increase interest in health care as careers for students from minority populations and help them overcome perceived barriers to medical and dental school, such as high tuition costs, long training and a challenging application process. By offering workshops with established health care practitioners from similar backgrounds to theirs, we believe we can open the pipeline for talented young people of color who can make a significant difference in improving health care in the U.S.”

Landry noted that research has found that patients who receive care from physicians of the same race rate their medical visits as more satisfying and report being more engaged in their treatment than do patients who see physicians of other races.

Gillian Barclay, D.D.S., Dr.P.H., vice president of the Aetna Foundation, said, “As our nation’s population becomes increasingly diverse, we need health care providers who have the cultural competency to engage their patients fully with their treatment and ensure good health outcomes. Multiplying the number of men and women from underrepresented minorities is a fundamental strategy to achieving health equity in the United States. The Aetna Foundation is pleased to be the Tour’s founding sponsor and support this innovative initiative as part of our portfolio of programs aimed at developing health care leaders from underrepresented communities.”

The first four stops for the inaugural Tour for Diversity in Medicine were:  Hampton University, Hampton, Va., Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, N.C., South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, S.C., Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Ala. The final stop on the tour this spring will be on the campus of Jackson State University, Friday, February 24, 2012.

At each school, about 150 students were expected to participate in the full-day program. Session topics range from the application process and admissions tests to choosing the right specialty to an overview of health disparities. Students will have the opportunity to interact with the presenting physicians, dentists and medical students and hear their stories about how they overcame obstacles to pursue a career as a health care professional.

“Without the assistance of mentors over the years, I would not be a doctor today,” said Kameron Matthews, M.D., J.D., co-director of the Tour for Diversity in Medicine and a family physician in Chicago. “We want to connect students with physicians and dentists who are dedicated to their growth and their future.”

Planning is already underway for two more tours, one in fall 2012 to colleges with large Latino populations and another in spring 2013 to colleges with significant Native American populations.

Landry, Matthews and other health care providers on the Tour for Diversity in Medicine plan to blog, tweet and use other forms of social media on their weeklong February trip to the HBCUs. People are invited to follow on Facebook and on Twitter @Tour4Diversity or visit tour4diversity.org.

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