Thomas Landefeld: Minority Students Aspire to End Health Disparities
Last month, professor of biology Thomas Landefeld gave presentations on “Becoming a Scientist: Considerations for the Minority Student” at the 24th Annual Association of Minority Health Professions Schools Symposium (AMHPS), which has hosted by Tuskegee University. The event was attended by minority high school students from schools across the nation, who participate in workshops, interact with mentors and speakers, and present research data. Other speakers at the Symposium, included Dr. Rani Whitfield, “Tha Hip Hop Doc,” Debbye Turner Bell, Miss America 1990, doctor of veterinary medicine and correspondent on CBS’s Early Show, and Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Landefeld also gave similar presentations at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala.
Landefeld says that in encouraging minority students to pursue careers in the medical sciences depends upon “Providing them information about what it takes and the real deal about the benefits helps tremendously. Also having effective role models that they can truly relate to is a major factor.”
According to Landefeld, the high school years – or even earlier - are a pivotal time for encouraging teens to pursue a college education and careers beyond the stereotypical types that they are exposed to through the media.
“Many kids decide against science as early as 3rd-4th grade, often due to the images portrayed by the media, for example, ‘The Nutty Professor,’ the lack of real knowledge about the profession and also the general attitudes in society about ‘nerdy scientists,’” he says. “Getting to them earlier requires effective outreach efforts, especially by those who spoke at the Symposium, e.g. ‘Tha Hip Hop Doc’ and a former Miss America. For this to happen requires a financial commitment at a national level so that efforts can be made and be effective.”
Minority students who decide to pursue the medical sciences as a career tend to gravitate toward becoming a general practitioner at first, says Landefeld, because it is the one vocation they think they ‘know.’
“Since many [students] are first-generation they have not had the opportunity to learn more about the medical profession from their home or community. Within the field of medicine, some want to go into orthopedics because of the sports experience, others want pediatrics due to experience with kids. Still, there are others who want to go the route of dentistry or veterinary medicine and do so because of personal experiences.”
Landefeld says that many career decisions by minority students in the sciences are based on their desire to lessen health disparities in their own communities.
“The discussions in my Minority Health Disparities class are very personal,” he says. “It is becoming more of a factor now due to such disparities as diabetes, prostate cancer, obesity, and fibroids really devastating minority communities disproportionately. Students are seeing this with friends, family, community and as such recognizing the need [for more practitioners].”
- Joanie Harmon