FUTURE DOCTORS—Ninth grade students receive their medical jackets after finishing the program. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
by Renee P. Aldrich
Picture this, 48 African-American males between the ages of 12 to 15 gathered, not at a sporting event, not in a park, and not engaging in some negative activity. Instead they are in suits and ties, taking their turn at the podium to present information on scientific and/or medical projects they’ve been researching.
Their topics ranged from preserving ecosystems, to the HIV/AIDs epidemic in youth, to explaining the differences between tornadoes and hurricanes as well as showing how the skills used in mastering video games can be transferred to what one needs to perform brain surgery. Such an image is not a fantasy, or a figment of the imagination, but real life from UPMC’s Eye and Ear Clinic.
It was here were these boys participated in the graduation services as part of the “Journey to Medicine” mentorship program of the Gateway Medical Society.
This hands on approach to ushering young African-American males into possible health careers is part of the program mission—to educate and mentor minority pre-adolescent males in the art and science of medicine. It also hopes to inspire and guide them as they matriculate through secondary education and beyond. The three year program is part of the GMS’s Youth Program Initiatives and targets males because the numbers indicate the need is far more pressing than it is for females. According to GMS President, Dr. William Simmons, the numbers show that in Pittsburgh, the graduation rate for Black males is about 56 percent while that of their White counterparts is 88 percent.
The program, which commences at the end of February begins when the boys are about mid-way through the 6th grade.
“The reason for starting with 6th grade is because studies have shown that generally between kindergarten and 5th grade African-American students and White students do about the same; the gap begins to develop somewhere after fifth grade and progressively widens through to 12th,” Simmons said.
“As such we see beginning with 6th graders a smooth execution of the program goals which are 1,) To mentor and build a strong sense of confidence in our pre-adolescent participants; 2,) To stress the early importance of achievement in mathematics and science; and 3,) To introduce a broader view of all disciplines of medicine, and allied health professions, including but not limited to: nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, Physician Assistant, pharmacy, dentistry, and podiatry.”