By Kameron Leigh Matthews, MD, JD
The Tour for Diversity in Medicine is a grassroots effort to educate, inspire, and cultivate future physicians and dentists of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds by forming local connections in order to fulfill a national need. My business partner and I, both of us new practicing physicians with strong experience in the Student National Medical Association, felt that several needs were not being met for underrepresented minority students, and we decided to reach out to students on their own campuses. With nine other colleagues this February, we travelled over 1,000 miles across five states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. We hosted full-day conferences focused on health professions advising, mentoring, and motivation on the campuses of five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The students we met on every campus were dedicated to their futures, inquisitive as to how to stay on the right path, and enthusiastic for every bit of information. Many of these students do not have adequate exposure to proper health professions advising and sound mentoring by those in the field as they progress through their education. They are also located at far distances from academic medical centers that might otherwise provide enrichment opportunities.
The one-on-one conversations throughout each day, in addition to the formal workshops, were key to our program’s success. I made personal connections with several students who were interested in my current primary care practice with an extremely underserved patient population; or my nontraditional background in law and policy. These students, whom I now regard as mentees, were both surprised and happy to meet young people who had achieved their dreams; hopefully they now see greater potential for their own dreams. Each of our Mentors made similar important connections, as we are from a range of backgrounds, specialties, and interests. We purposefully recruited and specifically chose a group of dedicated and well-rounded professionals, and the students certainly appreciated such exposure.
The feedback gathered from students on all five campuses as well as faculty, advisors, and other special guests was overwhelmingly positive. Regular comments include: “When are you coming back?” “Thank you for coming to our campus,” “We’ve never had anything like this before,” and “I’ve never seen young physicians like this.” These campuses are hotbeds for future dedicated health professionals, and due to the difficulty for outreach from many of our medical schools across the nation, their students are unfortunately forgotten.
Our concept is simple: Visit students on their home turf; motivate them by introducing them to young, enthusiastic physicians and dentists; and give them the information that they need to be successful. TDM Mentors have not only formed direct mentoring relationships but will be facilitating additional opportunities so that the momentum is not lost. The next Tour will be in the fall of 2012, and we hope to reach even more future professionals. We will not only be visiting HBCUs, but also Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other institutions with students of disadvantaged backgrounds.
I am proud to have taken part in this inaugural tour, and am excited as we expand and grow to different states and even younger and more eager students. As we address multiple issues within our health care system, including a diminishing workforce, I encourage other physicians, dentists, and health care professionals to serve as mentor; you can help a student move forward in a positive direction.
Please visit www.tour4diversity.org for additional information and media coverage. Also visit us on Facebook and Twitter @Tour4Diversity.
—Kameron Leigh Matthews, MD, JD is co-director of the Tour for Diversity in Medicine. She can be reached at Kameron@tour4diversity.org.