UMMC’s program inspires students looking at careers in medicine

UMMC’s program inspires students looking at careers in medicine

Lillian Lewis held a clamp-like tool grasping a suture thread in her right hand and forceps in the other. Hands steady and focus unwavering, she laid her first stitch. Then another.

For 17-year-old Lillian, it was first her go at suturing, albeit on a lacerated banana.

“I like a good challenge,” she said from behind her blue and white polka-dotted mask.

The handful of Mississippi high school students, gathered around suturing kits and scalpel-sliced bananas in a University of Mississippi Medical Center classroom during summer break, are familiar with the feeling. The room was full of students who crave a challenge. It’s what brought them to UMMC’s Insight Summer Enrichment Program.

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The three-week program intends to teach the ins and outs of medical school: clinical practice, patient interaction, lectures from UMMC physicians, mock interviews, and workshopping resumes and curriculum vitae. But at the crux of the program is something deeper. From 1978 to 2019, Black men admitted to the nation’s medical schools dropped from 3.1% to 2.9%. Native American students make up only 1% of U.S. medical students.

Insight is working to narrow those racial and ethnic disparity gaps.

“I want another girl to look at me and see what I did, so they know they can do it,” the Holmes County Central High School rising senior said. “I want the younger generation to know that whatever they want to do, do it regardless of your skin color.”

Three weeks of Insight

In June of 2020, UMMC Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior residents began piecing together the Insight program.

Resident physician Dr. Joshua Trull thought back to what residents told him they wish they had known before making the haul through medical school. It wasn’t about the precision and patience it took to suture. Or the hours spent away from normal college life to memorize human anatomy and courses of treatment. It was about overcoming roadblocks.

Not every prospective medical student knows what financial resources will be available to them to tamper the high price of tuition so working through financial aid possibilities is critical. Then there’s the need for a mentor, especially if a student doesn’t come from a family of one or more physicians.

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“We’re aiming to make it feel real, very possible and realistic,” Trull said.

The program mimics a truncated process of medical ​​school. Bright and early, the students hear a case report and work through a diagnosis and treatment plan. Then they go to a presentation to prep them for applying to pre-medical school. UMMC residents, attendings and fellows present about their different specialties. And then it’s time for clinical practice in the afternoon.

For Trull, who sometimes feels stuck in what he calls “the medical training machine,” the program and high schoolers have reinvigorated him.

“I think we’re building something special here,” he said.

America needs more Black doctors

Eric Lucas Jr., a second-year medical student at UMMC, didn’t have a program like Insight at his fingertips when he was a teen, but he did have his physician father.

The two, both Black men, know firsthand the importance of diversifying the medical field.

“People within our community are going to be treated by someone who has similar experiences and can advocate in ways that wouldn’t be advocated from a different minority group,” Lucas, 23, said.

There are wide disparities in the health outcomes of Black and white Americans. African Americans have higher rates of asthma, heart disease, hypertension, and pre-term births and infant mortality rates are greater, among other diagnoses.

Research says to reduce these disparities, America needs more Black doctors.

“It’s being able to say, ‘Hey, I see you and not just you from the outside but you from the inside,’ ” Lucas said. “It makes a world of difference for your health care outcomes.”

Sitting in on the Insight program’s clinical session wasn’t the first time Lucas had turned to mentoring. Funded through the IMPACT the Race grant, he helped run a Black Men in Healthcare Empowerment Summit that worked much like Insight, but for dozens of Mississippi middle-schoolers.

On a recent afternoon Lucas was settled next to 16-year-old Josh Graham, nudging Josh to shift his interest from radiology to surgery as they watched resident Dr. Josh Ortega demonstrate a simple interrupted suture.

“Think you can do that?” Ortega said, glancing at Josh.

“I think so,” the 16-year-old replied with confidence.

Like Lucas, the rising high school junior has his father, a nurse anesthetist, at his side. But he’s already seen a division among Black and white teens when it comes to an interest in medicine.

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“The school that I go to — Germantown — is a mostly white school, and the other Black kids that I know, not really a lot of them are into medicine,” 16-year-old Josh said. “But here, it’s a whole group of kids that are into the same thing.”

Following in family footsteps

For as long as Lillian could remember, she wanted to be a doctor.

Her grandmother, Diane Pickens, who spent decades as a nursing home aide, was her inspiration. Lillian, like her grandmother, is fueled by a passion of caring for people. Learning. Listening. And building relationships.

But when Lillian’s grandmother died from cancer this year, it was hard to keep faith in the medical field. Dreams of wanting to be a doctor began to fade.

“Sometimes I feel like the medical field just gave up, and I just didn’t know if this was something I wanted to do anymore,” she said.

Shortly after Pickens passed, Lillian got an email. She’d been accepted to Insight.

Opportunities like this aren’t offered at her high school, so Lillian took the chance.

Surrounded by nearly two dozen other students clad in matching blue scrubs also stitching fruit closed, Lillian said she isn’t sure how the next few years will pan out. But she was sure of one thing: Her grandmother would be proud she took on the challenge.

Have a health story? Or a health-related tip? Send it along to [email protected], on Twitter at @HaselhorstSarah or call 601-331-9307.

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