By Grace Austin

The disparities in healthcare are one of today’s hot-button issues, with everyone from political pundits to major hospitals weighing in on the subject. Some experts have suggested that increasing the diversity of the healthcare workforce will close these gaps and produce more innovative approaches to diseases. This is the goal of Mentoring in Medicine, a non-profit organization founded in 2006 by an ER doctor. Mentoring in Medicine introduces minority students to health professional role models, prepares students for medical school, and offers after-school programs. With more than 6,200 students helped in its short lifetime, Mentoring in Medicine hopes to improve the state of healthcare through today’s youth.

“We have been able to go into disadvantaged areas and not only inspire and educate children about careers in science and health, but help the population learn more about their health and increase health literacy in those communities,” said founder Dr. Lynne Holden.

With locations in New York City, Atlanta, and Oakland, Mentoring in Medicine (MIM) is the brainchild of Holden, a one-time TV medical drama-watcher who dreamed of becoming a doctor as a child. Holden participated in many medical pipeline programs throughout high school and college, which showed her the benefit of such organizations. Now Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and an ER doctor in the Bronx, New York, Holden’s childhood dreams have been realized.

Startling Figures about Minorities in Medicine

  • African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans make up 9 percent of nurses, 6 percent of physicians, and 6 percent of dentists, although they comprise nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population.
  • The percentage of U.S. medical school applicants who are black decreased slightly between 2002-2010 from 7.8 percent to 7.2 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
  • While Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Pacific-Islander, and Native American/Alaska Native populations of osteopathic medical students have increased within the past five years, African-American enrollment has seen slight decreases
  • At the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, regular professors of minority background comprised only 18% of the total professor population.
  • 10.7% of nurses are racial and ethnic minorities, according to the U.S. Department of HHS, HRSA, and Bureau of Health Professsions.

“I wanted to be a physician since I was six years old,” said Holden. “There are so many students out there that want to do things when they are young but they get discouraged, and we wanted to have a way to encourage them.”
Although Holden may have realized her goals, she sought to create an organization that would not only help other minority students fulfill their ambitions but would also increase health literacy in minority communities. Hoping to create an organization that would connect health professionals and young people seeking those careers, she founded MIM in 2006 with the help of three colleagues.

“Quite a few health professionals want to give back and inspire young people, but they just don’t know how or they don’t have an outlet to do it. I think through Mentoring in Medicine, by having structured activities where health professionals know they can come for two to three hours and they will be exposed to young people, and young people will be able to reap the benefits of their knowledge and learning about their personal journey, it’s more appealing to them. It takes less of their time, and they have the option of having a young person visit their office or shadow them, or not,” said Holden.

The Journal of Human Resources reported in a 2010 study that the lack of black physicians can in part be traced to inadequate pre-college academic preparation, as well as a lack of mentors, knowledge of requirements, and preparation for medical careers. MIM addresses these issues through a phased approach. Helping children from third grade up to health professional schools, MIM targets students in three phases: recruitment, high school, and college/post-baccalaureate.

Recruitment begins with large conferences and symposia that educate students about medicine, nursing, and medical career opportunities. In high school, biology and other scientific curriculum is addressed in after-school and in-school programs. From there, in college and after graduation, mentoring and planning for medical school admission are the main foci. Study skills, test preparation, and beneficial internships are essential parts of the third phase.
“My vision was to start an organization that could take students from elementary school through health professional school, to have a longitudinal organization. I wanted students to have a continuity experience. There are a lot of disadvantaged students that might have a dream, who did not do well in one course, and they are told they cannot be a health care professional. I wanted to create an environment where people can be encouraged—where there’s an academic specialist, a test prep coach, psychologists,” said Holden.

Overall, the best results have been for the college program. So far, 72 students are in medical school and 74 students are graduating in 2012 and applying to residencies. Tracking these students has been the easiest as well. For high school students and younger, and students that come infrequently, tracking is more difficult.

“Tracking could definitely be improved. Trying to find a way to keep in contact with them [is difficult], no matter how we try. But for those who are really interested and those who stay in the pipeline, they want to come back. We want them to feel that they can come back anytime. We are also teaching them to give back. Many of our medical students do that—they speak to and mentor the college students,” said Holden. “We really try to make it a cyclical kind of process.”

More than 560 health professionals have volunteered their time since the organization’s founding. Garnering support from the National Library of Medicine and the Friends of the National Library of Medicine, the organization has received grants, sponsorships, and much accredited professional involvement.

“It’s been huge for us. We’ve been able to get support from the most trusted source for medical information, and have been able to meet so many other people who are excited about the work that we’re doing,” said Holden.

In the future, Holden sees the organization moving beyond the initial strategies of demonstration projects and after-school programs, and bringing the organization to more cities across the country.

“My dream is to have Mentoring in Medicine activities across the country and in socio-economically disadvantaged areas. [I want] to be able to inspire and educate students to learn about science and health careers, and to see them through until they realize their dreams.”