“Doctors on Board” program shows African American students how to become doctors

on February 15, 2011

More than 60 high school and college students sacrificed a lovely sunny Saturday to meet at the Oakland Marriott City Center for a program geared toward encouraging more African Americans to become doctors and practice in the Bay Area.

The inaugural “Doctors on Board” program, sponsored by the Physicians Medical Forum, offered workshops and seminars on a variety of topics — including giving students a step-by-step idea of what they have to do to prepare themselves personally and academically to become doctors — and an insider view of medical school from medical students and residents who described what their lives were like.

“We’re trying to make sure there will be a diverse population of physicians to serve all communities,” said Stalfana Bello, the Physicians Medical Forum executive director.

African Americans make up 13 percent of Americans, but only 4 percent of physicians, according to an article published in 2007 in the journal of the National Medical Association.

To combat these low numbers, doctors from the Oakland-based Sinkler Miller Medical Foundation have volunteered their time to help expose area youth to medical careers. Many doctors from the organization were present during the program as speakers or panel facilitators.

Physicians Medical Forum receives funding from places like Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Wells Fargo to help with the cause of retaining African American doctors in the Bay Area.

“The cost of living here is high,” Bello said. “That’s one of the biggest deterrents for physicians. We have kids coming to the program from Oakland, Richmond, Pittsburg, Antioch, Hercules, Pinole and other parts of California. If a student does their residency in the Bay Area and they have family here, they are more likely to practice here.”

During the workshop titled, “So you want to be a Doctor:  Here’s what you need to know,” UCSF pediatrics Professor Dr. Carol Miller told the students to be prepared to live an academic life that will be very different from that of their friends. She cautioned the students to think about whether they would be able to resist calls and texts from buddies to hang out when they should be studying.

“Search your soul and prepare to do what you need to do to get here,” she said. “Medicine is the ultimate humanistic profession. It combines my interest in science and passion for helping people. No matter how hard my day is making someone else’s life better is incredibly rewarding.”

The highlight of the program for many of the attendees was a mock case study and medical clinic at the end of the day. Students were divided into small groups and got a taste of what a round during a medical residency would be like. Many of the doctors who were speakers played the part of attending physicians, and volunteers played patients.

Chidoze Ibe, a nursing student at Samuel Merrit University, said he enjoys working in the neonatal intensive care unit so much that he would rather do it as a doctor.

“I love working with the mothers, fathers and babies,” he said.

Ibe and his cohort were given a white coat, clipboard and stethoscope. Then he joined four other students to meet the mock patient and hear her describe her symptoms. The patient, going by the giggle-inducing name Ms. Jay-Z, complained about tiredness, overactive urination, feeling hungry all the time and eating more, but losing weight. She said she had a sore on her foot that hadn’t healed in weeks. When asked about her family history she mentioned a grandfather that had to have a leg amputated due to lack of circulation.

Next the students performed a mock physical exam. Dr. Michael Charles, an orthopedic surgeon with the Newton Group, patiently guided each student and showed him or her the proper way to listen to a heartbeat and give an abdominal exam among other techniques.

Taisha Ford, a microbiology post-baccalaureate student at CSU East Bay, asked a few pointed questions about the patient’s foot.

“Does it ooze any pus? What color is it? Is there any odor?”

Then after a few beats, Ford wondered out loud if the foot might be necrotic.

Next the students looked at the mock patient’s lab report with guidance from Dr. Glenda Newell, an internist with Newell & Spriggs Consulting, and Dr. Michelle Shute, an internist for Sutter East Bay. After quizzing them on the patient’s medical statistics like glucose and hemoglobin levels, they set them free to solve the medical mystery.

Shute, who is a member of the Sinkler Miller Medical association, delayed departure for a vacation to New Orleans with her husband for one day to participate in the program.

“Many kids haven’t seen African American doctors,” she said. “We want to show them that we’re here and that we want to support them.”

Ibe, Ford and their teammates correctly diagnosed the patient with diabetes after ruling out hyperthyroidism and a foot neuropathy.

TeIsleye Smith, a Solano Community College Student who plans to transfer to Sacramento State to do a Master of Public Heath, then go to Duke or John Hopkins for medical school, appeared energized by the mock clinic. She said she really likes emergency medicine and plans to focus on that for her career, but the detective work of an internist appealed to her as well.

Smith asked Shute if this was the sort of thing she does in her practice. Shute nodded, and said, “Each and every day.”

“This is fun to do this!” Smith said.

Ford, who said she has her sights set on Harvard medical school, left the program feeling more confident that she will be able to achieve her goal.

“I’ve been to a lot of medical conferences,” she said. “But now I know how to prioritize.  I know it’s going to be hard and take a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I’m ready to do the work.”

2 Comments

  1. A. Owens on February 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    A wonderful story! This online newspaper is the best source for positive, life affirming, hopeful and local news stories! Keep up the good work!



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