T4D Tour Recap | Dr. Minerva Romero Arenas

 In Uncategorized, Voices of Diversity

T4DPacNW: High School Report

Connecting with the Seattle Youth


We prepared for weeks. Practiced presentations. Rephrased our powerpoint slides. Too wordy. Not enough pictures. A dozen mentors arrived at the University of Washington Seattle campus for another Tour for Diversity in Medicine program. I had flown across the country to spend my “golden weekend” – the single weekend per 4-6 weeks that a resident may actually land consecutive weekend days off – talking to students about careers in medicine. It was the last day of the Pacific Northwest tour, and I had volunteered to lead our mentors for a day featuring a full program targeting high schools students.

The day finally started in typical Seattle fashion, an overcast morning just cool enough to warrant a sweater but bright enough for us to appreciate the beauty of the UW campus nested in the mountains. We unloaded the bus and set up registration, tested the projectors, set up stethoscopes, reflex hammers, and blood pressure cuffs for a clinical skills session. Students started rolling in and the day was a success. Among my favorite memories of the day: our first T4D selfie; the students’ faces light up with smiles as they learn to measure blood pressure on each other; lunchtime discussion where senior college students offer advice to the juniors and high school students; the countless times students thank us for coming to visit their campus because they never imagined doctors could be so ‘relatable.’

Why do we find it so important to do this work? The Tour4Diversity programming aims to recruit students who come from backgrounds [1]. Many of these students eventually go on to practice in healthcare underserved areas, where patients are more likely to lack insurance, rely on medicare, or have limited access to healthcare. The service they provide is of paramount importance to patients from minority backgrounds facing many health disparities based on the above social determinants of health, as well as the lack of a diverse healthcare workforce (HRSA 2005).

Despite many programs aiming at recruitment of URMs, a study of medical school matriculants reveals that the number of URMs in the US has remained constant since the 1970s (Figure 1). The number of African-American matriculants to medical school has remained relatively steady since 1978, and African-Americans comprise 13% of Americans but only 4% of U.S. physicians. In fact, the number of black male applicants to medical school has dropped to 1,337 in 2014 from 1,410 in 1978. While the raw number of Hispanic/Latino matriculants has doubled from 1978 to 2014 (562 to 1230), the percentage of Hispanic/Latino practicing physicians, has actually dropped 22% despite a marked increase in the percentage of the general population. (AAMC 2015) — Figure 1.

Keeping students in the “pipeline” is essential to increasing diversity in the workforce. Not unexpectedly, URMs face different challenges when deciding whether to pursue careers in medicine. High school juniors reported perceived barriers to pursuing careers in medicine, such as limited knowledge about the career pathway, poor access to African-American role models, finances, and attractiveness of other careers that were less educationally intensive (Rao and Flores 2007). Being a first-generation student myself (I was the first in my family to go to college, pursue a professional degree, first to become a doctor) I am acutely aware of the difference good mentorship can make in helping underrepresented minority students (URMs) reach their dream of becoming a doctor. It is my hope that the connections we make with students can be one of the factors they use to keep motivated through their path to that medical degree.

Group Picture 1.

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  1. AAMC. Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine. www.aamc.org
  2. HRSA. 17th Report of COGME- Minorities in Medicine: An Ethnic and Cultural Challenge for Physician Training. 2005. www.hrsa.gov
  3. Rao V, Flores G. Why aren’t there more African-American physicians? A qualitative study and exploratory inquiry of African-American students’ perspectives on careers in medicine. Journal of the National Medical Association. 2007;99(9):986-993.

[1] On June 26, 2003, the Executive Council of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) approved a new definition for “underrepresented minorities”: “those racial and ethnic populations that are underrepresented in the medical profession relative to their numbers in the general population.”

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