This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting both UCLA and Case Western Reserve University as I accompanied Shawn O’Leary, our Director of Multicultural Affairs at Geisel, to meet and talk to pre-med students of color from all around the nation. We were going to be representing Dartmouth at several recruitment fairs for the students enrolled in Summer Medical and Dental Educational Programs (SMDEP).
Earlier in the summer when Shawn had proposed the idea of joining him to myself and the other diversity fellows, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Here was a rare opportunity to talk to and potentially inspire young students of color who were probably facing some of the same challenges I had along my journey to medical school.
First stop was Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and only a mere 30 minutes from my beloved alma mater, Oberlin College. As we walked into the lecture hall where we would be meeting the students, I began to feel butterflies. A deep feeling of inadequacy slowly began to engulf me. I suddenly didn’t feel at all qualified to be addressing all these students. However, as soon as I walked in and looked directly into the crowd of students before us, I couldn’t help but smile. I leaned over to Shawn and whispered “one day medical schools will look like this.” It was a pleasant sight to behold; the room was filled with the expectant smiles of at least 90 students, donning their white SMDEP coats. I flashed a smile back at my future classmates and colleagues.
The first student I had a chance to speak to at our table approached me as soon as we got out of the lecture hall. A current junior at Williams College, he had many questions for me, some of which I had certainly been expecting: “How much of a role does research experience play in admissions?” Others prompted me to reflect on my experiences thus far: “What is it like being a student of color in Hanover, NH?” He also wanted to know about my involvement in the medical school’s Urban Health Scholars Program, which he had encountered through his own research. “What opportunities did we have to work with underserved minorities?”
Needless to say we had a very long conversation about the many challenges and opportunities for minorities in medicine. After which I truly found myself feeling lucky to be at Geisel; here was a school located in rural New Hampshire, but through the help of the Urban Health Scholars and Shawn’s office, I had found a way to stay deeply connected with the social justice concerns that brought me to medicine.
Next stop was UCLA in Los Angeles, California, a first for me and will most certainly not be the last. Even more students at UCLA were interested in opportunities to work with underserved minorities while in medical school. I was more than impressed with the amount of interest in community service and working towards reducing healthcare inequality. Again I found myself mostly talking about the Urban Health Scholars program and the many ways it facilitates my involvement in issues of healthcare inequality all over the country.
To say I was truly inspired by the students I got to meet at the fair almost sounds like an understatement. This experience reminded me of one of the main reasons I chose medicine. The abundance of opportunities to mentor other students, especially students of color, is a huge part of my motivation up to this very day.
It is only fitting that I end this article with an excerpt from an e-mail I received this morning from the Williams College student, who wrote:
“It was truly a pleasure to meet you the other day. I know talking to pre-med students like myself is not a big deal to you, but to me it was encouraging to see a person of color–a black man no less, on his way to becoming a doctor. I have met only a handful of black doctors or medical students, so talking to you about your experiences was nothing short of awesome.”
Hopefully after reading this article, he will see that talking to pre-med students like himself is not only “a big deal” to me, it is something I hope to devote a substantial part of my time and energy to throughout my career.
Inyang Udo-Inyang, Second-Year Student
Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine