Anacostia High School sophmore Tre Ruffin has his blood pressure checked by Derrick Jones, a sophmore from Ballou High School, with help from Dr. Kameron L. Matthews during the Tour for Diversity in Medicine High School Program on Sept. 28. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
Kathyana Philippe knew she needed to apply to colleges this fall — she’s a senior from Fort Meade — but wasn’t sure where to begin, which schools might be a good fit or exactly how to go about learning to be a pharmacist.
So she was excited when she went to Georgetown University School of Medicine on Saturday with about 100 other minority high school students interested in medical careers. “College applications are, like, right there,” she said. “I need to know if this is the right choice.”
Georgetown was the latest stop on a bus trip by the Tour for Diversity in Medicine, a national nonprofit group started by two minority physicians who wanted to encourage, inform and inspire young people who are interested in health sciences — but might not know how best to pursue their goals.
It’s all but impossible to get into medical school without some support and guidance along the way, said Alden Landry, who works at Harvard Medical School and is an emergency physician at a hospital in Boston.
Landry, who started the group with his friend Kameron Matthews, a family physician and lawyer, said there are too many intricacies and intangibles — such as knowing how much research experience, volunteer work and letters of recommendation can help vault an application, and preparing for the new medical college admissions test coming in 2015.
“You need to have a hand up, someone helping pull you up, and a hand down, to help someone else,” he said.
So one of the first things they asked the students on the tour to do was network: Meet strangers at the school and learn how to cultivate mentors. The basement hall buzzed as teenagers with sparkly sneakers chatted with a Georgetown neuroscientist, an Army surgeon, a pediatrician and other professionals, as well as medical students, college students and parents. “It’s a pipeline,” Matthews said, which is why the tour decided to add a day aimed at high school students to their college events.
Philippe’s questions included: “Are all the years of college worth it? Is it rewarding? How can you help people, exactly? How do you feel when you help people?” Everyone was easy to talk to, she said, “and they’ll lead you in the right direction.”
Landry, Matthews and the other volunteers told the students on the tour that African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are about 30 percent of the population but less than 6 percent of the medical workforce. They said that racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to go to work in underserved communities and that sometimes cultural differences can be barriers to good care.
The high school students also learned about different fields of medicine. Medical students told them how to apply for admission, financial aid and scholarships, and doctors talked to them about preventing disease through diet and exercise.
Philippe said she eats lots of fruits and vegetables, but she didn’t know how much exercise young people need. She did push-ups and squats onstage, to cheers.
“It will be hard to become a pharmacist, but I’m determined to do it,” she said. “Are there barriers?” Her eyes widened in disbelief, then she laughed. “No! Because I can do anything!”