Pipeline Programs Help Bring Minorities into the Health Professions

Dr. Vernon Banks

Dr. Vernon Banks


LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – School’s out for the summer.

But on a hot Friday morning, the learning goes on here inside the offices of Dr. Vernon A. Mills.

Shantai Banks, a Leavenworth High School junior-to-be, is shadowing Mills as he moves briskly from patient to patient.

“Ever since I was little, I loved playing with doctor stuff,” Banks said. “I was his patient, and I told him I wanted to be a doctor, and he told me about the shadowing program.”

Banks, like Mills, is African-American.

Mentoring, of the sort Mills does, is known to be among one of the more effective ways of recruiting minorities and others into the medical professions.

Mills previously participated in the now-defunct Health Careers Pathways program. Operated by the Kaw Valley Medical Society for more than 30 years, the program ended after federal funding for it dried up during the second Bush administration.

“Were they effective?” Mills said, describing the mentoring programs. “Absolutely. Two doctors in Leavenworth came through those programs, so Kansas has been the direct beneficiary.

“You can get people to volunteer,” he said. “There is no cost for that. You just need to make the effort.”

Enhancing or increasing mentoring programs is among the recommendations that emerged from a recent survey done by the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities. The recommendations will be formally presented next month at the coalition’s annual summer meeting.

The Washington, D.C.-based group was formed in 2004 and includes 47 universities from across the country, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.

Dean Betty M. Drees, of UMKC, co-chairs the coalition’s health initiative, which has goals of improving minority health, developing the workforce and building strong communities.

Mentoring, the survey showed, is considered one of the better ways to increase admission and retention of traditionally under-represented minorities in the schools that train health professionals.

Those surveyed included member university presidents and chancellors and the heads of schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and public health.

Drees said the survey results will be used as “an evidence base” for the coalition’s advocacy at the federal level and to identify the most promising practices for things such as mentorship pipelines.

The survey’s principal investigator was Evelinn Borrayo, associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Borrayo polled members on a number of topics.

She said the survey showed that member institutions all hewed to the coalition’s goals, but sometimes lacked the funding and accountability mechanisms to follow through most effectively on meeting them. During a recent coalition-sponsored Webinar she said a report from the 2004 Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce included guidelines worth following.

Missing Persons: Minorities in the Health Professions

Drees said it was important for the schools to stress cultural competence, community engagement and other best practices when training young professionals.

“Much of people’s health perspective is rooted in their cultural background,” she said. “I’m an endocrinologist, and when I take care of a diabetes patient … I need to keep in mind that your ability to apply a meal plan will vary, depending on what food you grew up with and what’s available to you.”

So-called pipeline programs like the one that allowed Banks to shadow Mills this summer also are in place at UMKC, Drees said.

“There are a couple in the school of medicine,” she said. “One, called Summer Scholars, is 30 years old. It’s for high school students who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s a two-week immersion experience in a healthcare setting. We also offer courses in preparing (college and graduate school) applications to enter the health career fields.

The school also has a fall program called Saturday Academy.

“It’s for middle- and high-school students,” Drees said. “There are a number of sessions that deal with everything from biology to preparing for the ACT test.”



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