Feinberg welcomed 15 undergraduate students on their spring break for the inaugural NU DOCS, a pipeline program designed to mentor future medical students from underrepresented groups.
The program, organized as an alternative spring break learning activity, provided students with a full week of premedical advising, skill-building workshops, clinical experiences and discussions with faculty members. In the future, the program will also offer ongoing mentorship, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) preparation stipends and medical school interview training.
“We know that the path to Feinberg is challenging and even a modest amount of mentoring and encouragement may make the difference for an aspiring young investigator or physician,” said Clyde Yancy, MD, MSc, vice dean for Diversity and Inclusion and chief of Cardiology in the Department of Medicine. “The collective experiences from this week may be just the catalytic moment that will impact one or more young minds and either solidify an interest in medicine or galvanize a trajectory towards success.”
NU DOCS became a reality based on the vision of John Franklin, MD, MSc, ’14 MA, associate dean for Diversity, Inclusion and Student Support and professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical Education and Surgery. As a long-term faculty member who has been committed to causes of diversity for over 20 years, Franklin recognized the gap in Feinberg’s program offerings and the need to find a better way to connect with undergraduates in Evanston. The team also included Teresa Mastin, PhD, director of Diversity and Inclusion, and a Linzer Grant was received from the Office of the Provost. With those funds, NU DOCS became an entity.
The competitive program is geared toward freshman and sophomore students at Northwestern University from underrepresented minority groups who are interested in entering into medical school. In order to prepare such a pathway to medicine, the week’s events included an comprehensive schedule of activities for students, including didactic and training sessions as well as networking and discussions with leaders in the field.
On Monday, students kicked off the week with a White Coat Ceremony, led by Franklin, before gathering for a medical specialties panel, hosted by Khalilah Gates, MD, ’10 GME, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care; Tacoma McKnight, ’83 MD, ’87 GME, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Valeria Cohran, MD, associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition; and Crystal Clark, MD, MSc, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
The physicians offered a first-hand view into each specialty and its advantages, discussed their journeys to medicine and answered questions from students about everything from staying motivated in medical school to becoming a physician-scientist and maintaining work-life balance.
“I decided really early on that I wanted to become a doctor and part of that was because of what I saw as a very negative portrayal of what individuals of color could achieve. And so I wanted to do something difficult. I wanted to do something that would require a commitment and a steadfastness associated with it. And I wanted to be successful at it,” McKnight explained. “This program has been a long-term dream for us. It’s very clear that pipeline issues are important — getting young people interested, keeping them interested and helping them transition through all the different steps it takes to finally cross that stage with the MD degree.”
The other panelists also stressed the importance of motivation and mentorship during pre-medical studies, medical school and beyond.
“There’s nothing bigger than you. Everything can be tackled. Find the right support system that will help you get through it,” Gates said. “Programs like this help you get through it and that’s what we’re here for — we’re going to help push you through.”
For NU DOCS students like Prophecy Agyare, a freshman at Northwestern, the physicians’ advice was informative. “I really enjoyed the panel because this is something I haven’t had before — direct exposure to people who are already in the medical field who can tell us about what they’ve experienced and about the different aspects of the field,” she said. “This program is a great opportunity and I’m hoping that it really pushes me to what I know I want to become.”
Joshua Sanchez, a sophomore, echoed Agyare’s sentiments. “Growing up, I didn’t have a physician as a parent or in my family, and so I’m eager for any opportunity to hear from people who have done it and who can help me understand how to be successful on that journey,” Sanchez said.
During the week, students also visited the anatomy lab with Larry Cochard, PhD, associate professor of Medical Education and Cell and Molecular Biology; practiced CPR and fundamentals of laparoscopic surgery in Northwestern Simulation; enjoyed lunch with Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean; and attended presentations from faculty members including Yancy; Roopal Kundu, ’01 MD, ’02 GME, associate dean for Admissions; and Estella Alonso, MD, the Sally Burnett Searle Professor of Pediatrics and Transplantation, among others.
On Friday, the students also received an MCAT prep session, led by Emmanual Ogele, a fourth-year medical student at Feinberg. “I’ve been fortunate to have been mentored by many individuals and I hope to pass forward what I have learned to other people,” Ogele said. “The alternative spring break is a relatively new program, but it’s all part of our efforts to recruit a socially aware and diverse group of individuals to train at Feinberg, which have already been going on for years.”
The week concluded with a post-reception dinner and a talk led by Alexis Thompson, MD, MPH, professor of Pediatrics and associate director of Equity and Minority Health at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Beyond fostering individual students participating in NU DOCS, organizers note that the program will also help establish a model for forming pathways to medical school for more students.
“We recognize that meaningful change in the number of diverse persons entering careers in life sciences and medicine is limited by the pipeline,” said Yancy, also the Magerstadt Professor. “We can’t wait for talented students who are culturally aware to simply show up — we must cultivate and nurture those with aptitude to consider this career and life course.”
NU DOCS is a partnership between Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, One Step Before on the Evanston campus, the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) Minority Association of Pre-medical Students (MAP) Chapter, the Northwestern University Premedical Advisor Office, and the Bio&ChemEXCEL Program, with the support of the Northwestern University Provost’s Office and the Linzer Grant for Faculty Innovation in Diversity and Equity.