Published June 28, 2013
Wearing the white coats of their profession and armed with stethoscopes, reflex hammers and a desire to make a difference, a group of UB medical students spent a spring afternoon back in high school.
They weren’t there for remedial study or for a class reunion; they were visiting Buffalo’s Health Sciences Charter School to give nearly 300 students there a glimpse of a doctor’s skill set.
As participants in the national Doctors Back to School outreach program, approximately 40 medical students, accompanied by four practicing physicians, also served as real-life role models for the teens.
Now in its third year at UB, the annual event is co-hosted by two medical student groups: the UB Chapter of the American Medical Association-Medical Student Section (AMA-MSS) and the UB Student National Medical Association (SNMA).
Through hands-on learning, the high-school students were exposed to some basic clinical skills that medical students must master.
They practiced listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope, testing reflexes, suturing pigs’ feet and casting and splinting arms.
After this engaging experience, the teens concluded that “medicine is cool,” says Chinelo Ogbudinkpa, UB’s SNMA president and AMA Minority Issues Committee liaison, who planned this year’s event with Prince Bonsu and Michael Williams.
Ogbudinkpa and other UB participants shared what it takes to make it in a demanding field, emphasizing that anyone with the drive and discipline to succeed can do it.
“I think the [charter students] learned from the life stories of the doctors and the medical students that it is possible to accomplish anything as long as one is willing to work hard, regardless of their background,” she says.
Created by the AMA’s Minority Affairs Section, Doctors Back to School aims to encourage young students, especially those of color who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds, to consider medical careers.
Another goal is to raise awareness of the need for more minority physicians.
In the United States, underrepresented minorities lag behind on nearly every health indicator, including health insurance coverage, life expectancy and disease rates.
Yet, only 7 percent of physicians are African-, Hispanic- or Native American.
According to the AMA, “increasing the number of minority physicians is critical to improving health care delivery throughout the system, and to addressing persistent racial and ethnic disparities in health care.”
That’s a goal Janelle Duah, a UB medical student and Doctors Back to School participant, plans to work toward personally.
“I feel it is imperative that we foster more interest in the sciences and provide more educational and social support for minorities interested in scientific or medical fields,” she says.
Duah, along with more than half of the UB students who signed up for Doctors Back to School, plan to continue working with the Buffalo teens as mentors.
This means they would continue the dialogue begun during the event, encouraging the high school students in their academic work while sharing the medical school experience.
“I hope to teach the students that our backgrounds and circumstances don’t define or limit our potential in life,” says Duah.
“If we have certain interests or abilities, no matter how poor or underserved we are, we can still make our dreams happen.”
Located near the emerging Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo, the health sciences charter school helps prepare students to pursue various health and medical careers.
Doctors Back to School is just one activity the school sponsors to expose students to medical and health-related careers.
The school also works with industry partners to offer specialized curricula, laboratory-based research, mentoring and internships.
Duah sees these kinds of experiences as key to helping the students reach their goals.
Her advice to those just starting on the path to a medical career?
“Start early building a foundation in the sciences as well as in leadership roles and team-centered activities,” she says.
She also advises students to “get clinical experience, so they know what practicing medicine really is like—apart from the airbrushed scenes they see on ‘House’ or ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ ”
Medical student Trevor R.M. York hopes the young students believe in themselves and envision a bright future.
“I hope the students obtained a validation for their goals—that they are students of color who are succeeding—and know that ambitious goals are achievable,” he says.
“The high school students that I helped teach suturing to were very bright and understood in a short amount of time how to properly suture,” he recalls.
“Young people, when given opportunities, can truly achieve anything.”