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College of Medicine launches LEAP to increase diversity in medical education

Faculty in the College of Medicine created LEAP to introduce high school students of color to the possibility of careers in medicine.

With its new Learning and Engagement for Aspiring Physicians (LEAP) program, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine aims to produce a group of more diverse physicians in the future

In March, 35 high school students participated in the full-day inaugural event designed to encourage underrepresented students to pursue careers in medicine. Hosted by the College of Medicine’s Office of Admissions, the program offered students insights into the field of medicine through panel discussions and simulation exercises in the Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Simulation (CHIPS) on the UTHSC Memphis campus. College of Medicine student ambassadors served as volunteers, assisting participants throughout the day. The cohort for the first event was comprised of high school students from Memphis Challenge, which provides leadership and professional development coaching to high-achieving students of color.

Students were welcomed to campus by Scott Strome, MD, executive dean of the College of Medicine. “We are delighted to initiate the LEAP pathway to open doors for students, traditionally underrepresented in health care, enabling and encouraging them to pursue a career in medicine. Effective medical care must be delivered by an exceptionally skilled, compassionate, and diverse workforce.  The LEAP program takes us one step further forward towards achieving this goal.”

Participants in LEAP got a broad overview of the College of Medicine, including lab time in the Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Simulation.

The morning panel, “Practicing Medicine in the Memphis Community,” provided insight into various disciplines including internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics. The panel was moderated by Claudette Shephard, MD, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion. Members of the Community physician panel featured:

  • Cynthia Cross, MD, associate professor of Pediatrics, division chief of Pediatric Hospital Medicine, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital medical director
  • Christopher Jackson, MD, assistant professor Department of Medicine, Division of Medicine General Internal Medicine
  • Mario Ray, MD, associate professor Department of Medicine, medical director of Impatient Rehabilitation, Regional One Health
  • Jessica Ruffin, MD, Physician Adams & Patterson Gynecology & Obstetrics
  • LaTonya Washington, MD, chief medical officer Methodist North Hospital, Bluff City Medical Society president
Students in the LEAP program learned CPR in the CHIPS lab as part of their visit to UTHSC.

Dustin Fulton, EdD, assistant dean for Admissions in the College of Medicine, moderated the “Medical School Admissions” panel, which focused on the pathway to medical school and the overall admissions process.

“We are working to inspire the next generation of physicians by providing access and opportunities. This is especially true as it relates to the College of Medicine’s goal to increase the number of learners who might identify as being underrepresented in medicine based on their race or ethnicity,” Dr. Fulton stated. The panel included Alexander Feliz, MD, Crystal Pourciau, MD, and fourth-year medical student Alexus Rias, all of whom have experience providing guidance to prospective medical school students.

“As we work toward having a more diverse student population, we understand that the benefits are huge. Not only does a greater participation of underrepresented students in medical education improve the overall learning experience for all students, it also helps with increasing the diversity of the physician workforce,” Dr. Fulton said. “Engaging students earlier is paramount to these goals. We have the ability to remove barriers to access and look forward to continuing our work with pathway programming locally and across the State of Tennessee.”

Simulation experiences were led by a group of UTHSC medical residents and fellows, which included Brittany Brown, MD, Eva Ingram, MD, and David Jones, MD. Students had an opportunity to engage in CPR and airway courses, as well as an ultrasound lab.

LEAP is part of a broader effort at UTHSC’s College of Medicine to increase diversity in medical education.