For some people of color, getting into medical school may seem like an impossible dream. Leaders at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion are committed to ensuring that all feel welcome. The group has created programs to address the documented lack of diversity among physicians.

Published Aug 29th, 2019

By Brittany Otis

botis@health.southalabama.edu

For some people of color, getting into medical school may seem like an impossible dream. Leaders at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion are committed to ensuring that all feel welcome. The group has created programs to address the documented lack of diversity among physicians.

Two programs, the Diversity Recruitment and Enrichment for Admissions into Medicine (D.R.E.A.M.) and the SouthMed Prep Scholars, are exceeding that goal in an effort to show them they have a future in medicine.

Two students, in particular, are feeling the impact of the programs. Trentyn Shaw of Alabama State University and Alana Fortune of Dillard University, in D.R.E.A.M and SouthMed Prep Scholars respectively, are taking advantage of the opportunities the initiatives provide.

The undergraduate seniors, both biology majors, said research is what led them to South Alabama. Rave reviews from other students drew them to the programs and made it an easy choice for them to take part.

“I knew with the D.R.E.A.M program, I would have a pipeline into the university and get help with my Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT),” said Shaw. “I’ve always felt like South wanted me to come here versus just being another applicant.”

Jeffrey Sosnowski, M.D., Ph.D., D.R.E.A.M program director and assistant dean and professor for medical education, said the program reflects the medical school’s commitment to a diverse student body. “African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans make up 20 percent of the incoming class of 2023,” he said. “It’s only six percent in other programs across the country.”

According to Sosnowski, 12 percent of the class of 2023 are students who have graduated from the D.R.E.A.M and SouthMed Prep Scholars programs, the largest combined group ever to enter the USA College of Medicine.

The SouthMed Prep Scholars program exclusively partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), which is why Fortune chose it. “I like that SouthMed Prep is giving black students a space here,” she said. “When I came to South, I knew this was the place for me.”

The SouthMed Prep Scholars program is led by Johnson Haynes Jr., M.D., assistant dean of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, professor of internal medicine and a pulmonologist with USA Health. Fortune credits Haynes for pushing her to never give up.

According to Haynes, choosing a name for his program was tough but ended up being something that defined his students. “‘Scholars’ - all of these students have known academic excellence throughout their lives and they should not let anyone tell them different,” he said.

For Shaw and Fortune, the road to a medical education started when they were children. Both admit to never being treated by minority physicians and wanted to see change. However, the aspiring medical students said family history is what initially sparked their interest.

“When I was a child, my dad had a defective heart valve and he wasn’t supposed to make it to 24,” said Shaw. “Money for my dad’s surgery was the biggest worry, but he finally got it. After the surgery, the doctor paid my father’s medical bills and that really stuck with me. What that doctor did for my dad not only saved his life but mine as well. I want to help others in the same way.”

For Fortune, it’s her parents’ roots that guided her to medicine. “I’m a first generation American. My parents are from the country Grenada. When I go back, I see many people there who don’t have access to healthcare. I want to go to third world countries and help for free,” she said.

After the students complete their programs, a ceremony is held in their honor. During this year’s event, the room was filled with laughter, joy and hugs as they celebrated their accomplishments. Sosnowski spoke at the event and left his students with an important message. “Diversity among colleagues in medical school produces better doctors, which produces greater care for patients. The sense of feeling like you belong is critical in healthcare,” he said.

As for Shaw and Fortune, their next steps are to graduate from college, gain high scores on the MCAT and become medical students at USA. The advice they want future students to know before entering the programs is to never give up even through the difficult times.

“Prepare yourself for the hard days, this is not an easy program,” Shaw said. “Always be prepared to bounce back.”

“Be resilient,” is the advice Fortune gives. “It’s okay to not be perfect and struggle. Just know this all a part of the journey. And start studying now!”

To learn more about the D.R.E.A.M. and SouthMed Prep Scholars programs, contact the USA College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion at (251) 341-4072.

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