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The New Face of Geriatrics
A summer program attracts minority medical students to the field

Bayview’s Crystal Simpson, second from right, with students Ashleigh Hicks, Luis Amaury Castro and Delvin Yazzie.
Crystal Simpson has a dream. She wants to see more minority medical students falling in love with her own, often-overlooked specialty, geriatrics. She’s making it happen, too.

Over the last two years, Simpson has whipped her aspirations into a streamlined program that draws first-year minority medical students from schools nationwide to Hopkins’ Bayview Medical Center and the Center on Aging and Health for a summer of research and clinical rotations in geriatrics.

“It’s an area that does not naturally attract young people, especially not minorities,” says Simpson, an assistant professor in geriatric medicine.

This summer, the third class of Simpson’s growing Geriatric Summer Scholars program flocked to Hopkins. Eight minority medical students—one Native American, two Puerto Ricans and five African-Americans—worked alongside experienced geriatricians in areas such as the osteoporosis clinic and the hip fracture service. They made house calls and rounded out their educations with epidemiology and biostatistics classes. They attended special prep classes for the all-important medical licensing exam. Several developed their own research proposals with the help of Hopkins experts.

It wasn’t long ago that Simpson herself navigated medical school as an African American. And the more she advanced in her career, the more she grew tired of being “the only one.” So her program aims to not only shape minority students into top-notch candidates for residency and well-rounded future physicians, but also increase diversity at Hopkins by encouraging the participants to build careers here.

According to David Nichols, vice dean for education, minorities make up 10 to 20 percent of Hopkins’ medical school classes and form about 8 percent of faculty in the instructor and assistant professor ranks. But only 2.7 percent of full professors are under-represented minorities.

“Academic medicine isn’t doing a good job in attracting minorities and keeping those we do have,” says Nichols, a member of the Department of Medicine’s Diversity Council. “In fact, compared to the United States military or the corporate world, academic medicine is far behind.” Simpson, he says, has been a leader in turning that around. “She’s been able to identify a pool of the most talented minority medical students. Now, those students seek her out to come here.”

In fact, solely through word of mouth and recruitment at the annual conference of the Student National Medical Association, the oldest and largest minority medical student organization, the program has jumped from nine participants in its first two years to eight this year—bringing the total to 17.

In the program’s pilot summer—funded entirely by private donors—students received a meager $400 stipend. Then John Burton, professor of geriatrics and former division chief, obtained a geriatric education center grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Simpson’s students now receive a more competitive stipend of $3,000, and the program can accommodate up to eight students.

“It’s vitally important that geriatrics and Johns Hopkins attract more professionals who are under-represented minorities,” says Burton, who hosts the students in his clinic as part of the program.

Part of what makes the program stand out, says Simpson, is that students spend time with faculty experts in areas such as mental health, epidemiology and health policy and management.

Aleicia Mack is a testament to what such a summer can lead to. Mack took part in the Geriatric Summer Scholars program in 2002. Last year, she made a poster presentation at the American Geriatric Society meeting. This summer, she won a fellowship to do more research at Bayview. Now entering her final year of medical school at Oklahoma State, Mack has decided to apply for residency at Bayview.

Other participants have met with similar success. One student used her research proposal to win a National Medical Fellowship, and ultimately presented the work at the annual meeting of the National Gerontological Society of America. Another won the American Geriatrics Society’s prestigious Edward Henderson Award, presented to the student who has made the country’s greatest contributions to the field.

Says Simpson: “The skills they learn here will carry them throughout their professional lives.”

Lindsay Roylance



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