Thomas Landefeld: Stemming the Tide of Minority Health Disparities
Professor of biology Thomas Landefeld presented three workshops titled “What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You About Applying to Biology and Biomedical Research Programs” at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Association of Minority Health Professional Schools in New Orleans last March. The conference provides minority high school students from across the country with information on careers in the health professions.
Landefeld cites the challenges of promoting careers in health sciences to students of color when many of them are more attracted to seemingly more profitable – and expedient – careers such as sports or entertainment.
“It’s hard, because most of these positions, educationwise, are delayed gratification,” he notes. “And, in all communities, but certainly minority communities, it’s about ‘What can I get right now?’ They’ve gone through many obstacles and they want to get out of there.
I bring a lot of minority scientists to campus as guests, because students look around and say, ‘I don’t see a lot of role models who look like me.’ Another thing is to expose them to national meetings, where they see other students and established role models [of color].”
In April, Landefeld also spoke at Hostos Community College in the Bronx and at
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College in Hayward, Wis. He underscores the importance of mentoring as “the most effective tool to guarantee success among underrepresented minority students regardless of their ethnicity. Native American students benefit greatly by learning more about the possible careers that are available to them and what it takes to ‘get there’. Although everyone knows something about careers in health care such as doctors, dentists, and nurses, by providing students with other possible careers in [the health science] arena and how they can be competitive, they can truly consider these.”
Landefeld, who teaches a new class on minority health disparities at California State University, Dominguez Hills, focused on what high school students need to do to meet the competition at both the college and professional health school levels. He also encouraged students of diverse populations to strive to work toward diminishing the effects of health disparities.
“Not only do we talk about careers, but I try to make it as practical of application for students as possible,” he says. “They’re aware that their families and communities are affected by [health disparities], but they don’t necessarily know the severity of the situation. For example, [diabetes] is two times greater in blacks than whites, and one-and-a-half-times more with Hispanics. There are all these causes: lack of insurance, social, cultural attitudes. To me, this is the most critical national health issue we have as society gets more diverse. If students know that they can really play a role in adjusting health disparities that they see their family or friends affected by, they’re more likely to get involved.”
- Joanie Harmon