Devaughn McNary wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Though he isn’t exactly sure what type of doctor he will be, he and the 11 other 7th grade boys in the Gateway Medical Society Youth Mentorship Program are well on their way to achieving their goal.

“One thing I learned is there are many different types of physicians. The type of physician I want to be is either a pediatrician or an obstetrician,” McNary said. “All of the things I learned will help me one day be a doctor and help those in need.”

LEADERS AND MENTORS—Back row, from left: David A. Anderson, DDS, MDS; Mark Brentley, Morris Turner, Chentis Pettigrew Jr., EdD. Front row, from left: Rhonda Moore Johnson, MD; Jan Madison, MD; Annette Edwards, MD; Helen A. Davis, MD; Margaret D. Larkins-Pettigrew, MD and Carmen Anderson. (Photos by Rossano P. Stewart)

Before they even reach high school, young boys in the GMS Youth Mentorship Program will have a head start on other youth hoping to enter the medical field. The program pairs them with doctors in various specialties to show them the ins and outs of the profession and how to get there.

“It’s not easy to become a doctor or a nurse or whatever you want to be,” said Jordan Rawls. “If you talk to people like doctors, they can help you a lot.”

Fifteen students from the Pittsburgh Public School District were originally admitted into the program, which began in March. They had the opportunity to take at least one field trip per month with their physician mentor, residents or medical students and were exposed to weekly curriculum including hands-on application through the STAR Center of West Penn Hospital

“I learned how important team work is to solving problems,” said A.J. Smith. “It allowed me to see successful African-Americans. I felt very proud.”

Each year an additional 15 6th grade students will be admitted into the program. Through the support of the Heinz Endowments Foundation, the project coined “Journey to Medicine, Building the pipe­line for future physicians,” has the potential to infuse 105 students into the medical field after seven years.

“I have learned about different medical fields that can help and cure you in different ways,” said Rashad Bolden.

Upon completion of the program’s first term, the students are given a $100 stipend, which they received at a ceremony Dec. 18. They will continue to receive guidance throughout their secondary schooling and onto college.

“They’re more than engaged; they’re enthused. It’s their drive and zeal to want more information,” said Morris Turner, youth coordinator. “To be able to focus on something like this—this early in life—is a great thing.”

The grade point averages of the students in the program ranged from 1.5 to 4.0 with the majority falling between 2.5 and 3.4. Tutoring sessions were also available to students experiencing academic difficulties.

“They are some of the brightest inner-city kids. If they don’t know it’s out there, how do they know to strive for it,” Turner said. “I selected two or three students that were considered underperforming. I’m proud to say that these kids who were behind are now at least a 3.0. It’s great to see these kids doing so well.”

The mission of GMS is to close the gap on health care disparities. The organization works to promote health care and general welfare of minority and socio-economically challenged populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania and to enhance the quality of health services by addressing the ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare.

“This is not the end of the program. We understand that whether you become a doctor or a dentist, we are exposing you to something you wouldn’t normally have seen. You have an opportunity a lot of students don’t have. Some of us never had that,” said Anita Edwards, program coordinator and GMS chairperson of program committee. “We are here to help you, but you also have to learn to help yourself. We hope to keep this moving.”

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