Changing the Face of Medicine
“The medical EIP was recognized officially at the gala this past November as a strong component of the [Brown-Tougaloo] Partnership because we can measure its success by how many students have come through the program and have graduated and are practicing,” Quezada says. She adds that the program has been reevaluated over the years to ensure that success, with changes made in both the Tougaloo curriculum and the support offered at the Medical School. That willingness to go above and beyond is critical to the mission of the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership, she says, referring to the discrepancy in the number of minority physicians versus the demographics of the general population: “We need them to be doctors.”
At the Jackson Heart Study, “we tell them about health disparities from day one,” says White, who teaches courses in epidemiology and public health research methods. “The African American population is considered a vulnerable population,” due to the higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease compared to the general population. In addition to conducting research, Jackson Heart Study students help to educate the community; along the way, many develop a passion for the mission.
That’s not to say that Tougaloo graduates can be pigeonholed. “When people knew I was a Southerner, they would talk about, ‘your people really need you.’ There was no mean intent, but they would always focus on primary care,” says Henderson, a neurologist and director of the Neurocritical Care and Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of neurology at Harvard. “We have eyes too— we need ophthalmologists. We need ENT surgeons and neurologists. People did try to put us in a box based on our presumed background.”
Since arriving at Ohio State, Taylor has worked to increase the number of physicians from underrepresented groups as a member of the school’s diversity and mentorship councils. But, he says, as a cardiologist he wants to “help everyone.” “Most individuals in America w ill die of cardiovascular disease,” he says. “I think that while there are disparities that happen, if I’m not in Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati I may not have a large percentage of minority patients. … I want to help people realize they need to take control of their health.”
Just as their academic interests have taken them all over the map in terms of medical specialty, Brown-Tougaloo alums have landed all over the US map as well—though, until recently, they rarely returned home. Johnson, who grew up in Jackson, says lingering racism and a dearth of opportunities in the South deterred many graduates. But “the face of medicine has completely changed,” she says. Now in her seventh year in Providence, the aspiring hematologist-oncologist says she hopes to complete her residency, as well as fellowships and postdoctoral research, in the South, preferably Mississippi. “I want to go back home because my family is there,” she says. “They were my biggest cheerleaders.”
McGinnis is pleased to see more of his former students returning to their home state with MDs. “Tougaloo’s impact is needed,” he says. “Mississippi is last in so many rankings,” including infant mortality, cardiovascular death, and overall health, according to the United Health Foundation’s annual report on health in the 50 states. Mississippi is also last, or close to it, in numerous rankings of public education and educational attainment. Many students come to Tougaloo from poor or rural backgrounds, McGinnis says. But thanks to the partnership with Alpert Medical School, “It’s possible to come from anywhere and, if you work hard, you have more than a good chance of becoming a physician.”