GUMC Fellow Uses Federal Grant to Develop Medical Pipeline Program for Minority Students

Posted in GUMC Stories

JULY 10, 2015 — By supporting researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), grants from a government agency striving to strengthen health care workforce development are already making a difference.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency, awards grants to organizations that work towards improving access to health care among underserved populations. In 2014, Byron Jasper, MD, was awarded a HRSA grant (D55HP20646) to develop a pipeline program for minority students interested in pursuing careers in medicine.

As a community health leadership development fellow at GUMC, Jasper wears many hats. In a typical week, he sees underserved patients at Unity Health Care in Washington, works with Georgetown medical students and residents at Fort Lincoln Clinic in Bladensburg, Md., strives to improve access to healthy food with the Food Equity Council in Prince George’s County and teaches at the School of Medicine.

Jasper can also be found running his capstone project: the Comprehensive Medical Mentoring Program (CMMP) (new window), designed to help students understand what they need to do to enter the medical field and to give them the tools to achieve that dream.

“The HRSA grant required me to develop a program that would impact D.C. residents,” said Jasper. “The idea of teaching people and giving them little tips to help them get closer to their goal of becoming a medical doctor really appealed to me.”

A Unique Structure

Jasper’s background research on medical pipeline programs revealed that there was no set structure in terms of programming — medical schools across the country do it differently. But even in the rudimentary planning stages, he knew that the most important goal was to recruit a diverse group.

“The overwhelming goal of this program is to add diversity to the medical field. So the program is geared toward minority students in the DMV [District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia] area,” said Jasper. “But it is also diverse in that everyone from high school students to attending physicians are represented.”

After personally interviewing roughly 50 applicants, Jasper had his final group — four high school students, six undergraduate students, ten medical students, three resident physicians and three attending physicians.

From those 26 participants Jasper created five small groups that contained a combination of the various education levels, so that most were represented in each group. Although Jasper holds a general meeting every two weeks, the small groups, where close mentor-mentee relationships develop, are the backbone of the program.

“The small groups meet every other week — the off-weeks from the general meetings. They discuss the topics we learn about and the assignments that are due,” said Jasper. “But what actually starts to happen is that mentees and mentors develop relationships in that close-knit environment, and they begin to talk about other things, both related to medicine and related to life.”

Relevant Programming

So what exactly should young, minority high school and college students know about going to medical school and entering the medical field? Jasper created programming that could be filed into two categories that he calls “clinically and socially relevant topics” and “concrete skills.”

For example, in the clinically and socially relevant topics column, Jasper introduced the students to the concept of “social determinants of health” — the idea that people’s environments have a significant effect on their overall health.

“If you don’t have access to healthy foods, how can you eat healthy? If you don’t have viable transportation options to get to the clinic, how can you see a doctor? We gave them articles to read and videos to watch about social determinants of health, and then we asked them to consider how they have been affected,” said Jasper. “How has it impacted people they know? How are minorities affected?”

In that vein, CMMP underscores community service. As part of the program, participants volunteered as a group packaging food for the SHARE Food Network. Jasper pointed out that doing community service serves a dual purpose: medical schools value it on applications, and it reinforces the idea of social determinants of health in low-income communities.

The students also learned about and practiced some of the concrete skills they would need to apply to medical school by writing sample personal statements and doing mock interviews.

“I’m the first one in my family to go to a four-year institution for college, and the first one to go to medical school,” said Jasper. “I had to learn a lot of this stuff the hard way. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because it teaches you how to be independent. But I tripped up along the way, and I don’t want them to go through the same thing just because they don’t have an understanding of what is required.”

Making Dreams Reality

For Lina Perez, a rising junior at Howard University, participating in CMMP was a galvanizing experience.

“It definitely made the idea of becoming a doctor more real and more achievable, because it’s a bunch of people that look like you, who are from similar places. And they are living the dream that you want,” said Perez.

Blair Simon, a second-year medical student at Howard University, agreed.

“In all the places I’ve been to, I’d never had the occasion to meet a minority physician,” said Simon. “And that’s really bad, because I grew up in and out of hospitals and free clinics. I saw a lot of physicians, but never a black physician.”

That is, not until he met his own mentor a few years ago.

“After I met my mentor, who was a very well-educated black physician, I saw that I could actually do it, I could become a doctor, and it wouldn’t be strange for me to be one. That’s a huge reason why I think mentoring is so important, and why I wanted to participate in this program,” said Simon.

Loryn Duncombe, a rising junior at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Va., also felt that the program made her dream of becoming a physician more real — both in a positive way, and in a sobering way.

“Some of the speakers broke the numbers down and showed us how much everything would cost. That really opened my eyes,” said Duncombe. “But the point they were making was that if this is something you want to do, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. And I know that I am.”

A Lasting Impact

The students “graduated” from the program in May, but many say they will stay in touch with their mentors.

“At the end you have a bunch of brothers and sisters who can answer any questions you have about pretty much anything,” said Perez.

It is clear that the program will have a lasting impact on its participants. But Tracey Henry, MD, a CMMP mentor and a health policy fellow at GUMC, argued that it could also have an impact on their communities.

“Many studies have shown that underrepresented minorities are more likely to serve as physicians in areas that other physicians may not serve in for a prolonged period of time,” said Henry. “Physicians who are from underserved areas are more likely to stay and practice medicine there.”

Kim Bullock, MD (new window), Jasper’s fellowship director, said that programs like CMMP certainly improve diversity in the medical field, but they also pay dividends when it comes to mentoring the next generation.

“This pipeline project is an important step toward expanding our pool of minority leaders in health care,” said Bullock. “They in turn can continue the legacy of mentorship in their respective fields.”

Bullock hopes to secure additional HRSA funding to continue and expand CMMP.

“The earlier we can identify and capture talented students from underserved communities, the richer our future health care system will be,” said Bullock.

Leigh Ann Renzulli
GUMC Communications