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Program Encourages Young Blacks, Hispanics to Pursue Careers in Healthcare

SMART exposes minority students to doctors, with goal of inspiring them to pursue medical careers

Paramedic Lisa Kahle
Paramedic Lisa Kahle explains the equipment used in emergencies. Newark resident Shawn Ohazuruike, 16, right, observes.

For Irvington resident Colleen Lashley, 17, this summer has gone from considering a career in healthcare to planning on one.

Lashley, who will be starting her senior year at Saint Vincent Academy in Newark, has been learning about health careers in a Newark-based summer program. Yesterday, that experience culminated with a daylong opportunity to meet young doctors and tour University Hospital.

“It’s a good opportunity, because in my town there aren’t any (similar) programs,” Lashley said. “It’s a good investment to make over the summer, instead of just staying at home, and this is one of my only opportunities to actually learn about medicine.”

Rutgers New Jersey Medical School hosts Science Medicine and Related Topics (SMART), a five-week day program for economically and educationally disadvantaged students. The goal is to increase the number of doctors and other healthcare professionals from backgrounds that are underrepresented in medicine. Most of the 38 SMART participants touring University Hospital yesterday were black or Hispanic.

Of 1,835 New Jersey residents who applied to medical school last year, 142 were black, or 7.7 percent, and 87 were Hispanic, or 4.7 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Both percentages were significantly lower than the groups’ representation among state residents. In addition, 117 were of multiple races and ethnicities, and 127 were of unknown race or ethnicity.

The medical school’s support for the program is part of a broader effort to increase the number of minorities in medicine. The Association of American Medical Colleges supports several similar programs nationally, pointing to research that having a more diverse healthcare workforce can help lower health disparities among minorities.

Along with the school, the Committee of Interns and Residents -- an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union -- and University Hospital sponsored yesterday’s tour.

“This is really important to us, as a commitment to the community,” said Sara Pena, University Hospital’s senior marketing and communications coordinator.

The students were eager to meet young doctors who were in their residencies, asking for tips on getting into medical school and what their experiences in medicine have been like.

Students gasped when they were told that major medical-school exams take eight to nine hours, but Dr. Neil King, a medical resident conducting research at University Hospital, and Dr. Jessica Edwards, a resident at CarePoint Christ Hospital in Jersey City, sought to reassure them.

“It’s not scary, once you get to college,” King said.

Edwards said it pays for students to save up for a class preparing them for the Medical College Admission Test. She said she wanted to help students understand that becoming a doctor is achievable.

“It’s one thing for students to see doctors on TV, it’s one thing to know one or to go to their doctor’s office, but it’s another thing to see a young doctor who’s fresh out, who can talk to them about the things that they went through,” Edwards said.

“When you explain things to them ahead of time, you can prevent them from making some of the same mistakes” that older students made, she added.

Several residents repeatedly advised the high-schoolers to ask doctors if they could shadow them on their jobs, or to seek jobs in medical settings so that they could better understand what the job entails.

Edwards said that she wanted to be involved in family medicine and to deliver babies, so she volunteered for opportunities that would give her more experience in these areas.

Medical School Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. John Paul Sanchez showed the students connections between the daily practice of medicine and ways that doctors can contribute to solving larger public-health problems. He noted that it helps if doctors understand their patients’ backgrounds and the wide variety of factors in a community that can contribute to their patients’ health problems.

“As New Jersey residents, as people who live in Newark, it is your responsibility to know what’s going on in the community,” Sanchez said.

Dr. Dare Adjibade reinforced this point. He urged the students to make the most of what they learned in the SMART program. He described a moment in college when his own academic motivation shifted from getting good grades to understanding the importance of medicine for helping people. This helped him improve how he studied and retained information.

“You have to understand that the responsibility starts with you; the programs are not just for play,” he said. “You are the future, OK? I’m depending on you, your parents are depending on you, and we need you guys to understand that.”

Newark resident Shawn Ohazuruike, 16, said he hopes to become a neurology researcher.

A senior at Delbarton School in Morristown, where he’s received a scholarship, Ohazuruike said he was grateful for the opportunity to ask young doctors about their experiences.

“To get insight on what courses to take in the future to become a doctor, to get an edge on maybe other students, it helps a lot,” he said. “Growing up in Newark, you don’t see children who have exposure to medical school.”

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