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Diverse Scholars
Special scholarships have brought us some of the nation’s top minority medical students. Two reflect on the difference they’ve made.


Sahael Stapleton and Maria Garcia.

When Maria Garcia applied to medical school, everything seemed to be going her way. On the list of schools offering her admission were Harvard, Hopkins, Columbia, UCSF and UC Berkeley.

Of them all, Garcia wanted Hopkins. But after her financial aid meeting during Revisit Weekend, when applicants take a “second look” at Hopkins, she returned to her Oakland, Calif., home dispirited. The School of Medicine was still out of reach financially.

As a senior in high school, Garcia had been accepted at Harvard but wound up attending Berkeley and living at home, a less expensive alternative. Now it seemed as though once again, sheer economics, not personal preference, would determine her choice of medical school. More and more, it was looking like a toss-up between Berkeley and UCSF.

Garcia wrote to Crystal Simpson, an assistant dean for student affairs, declining Hopkins’ offer of admission. But just days before the May 15 deadline, Simpson called back with good news: Garcia was eligible for a full, four-year scholarship.

The scholarship was one of 12 funded by the University and the board of visitors. Now called the board of advisors, this group of about 40 friends and donors addresses academic issues such as faculty appointments and promotions in the School of Medicine. Board members conceived of the scholarships as a means of attracting the most sought-after minority students to Hopkins.

Currently, two of the recipients, all known as medical scholars, are in the first-year class, and 10, including Garcia, are in their second year, making the class of 2009 14 percent black and Hispanic.

Historically, the School of Medicine has not stacked up particularly well compared with its peer group, a consortium of 13 medical schools. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available from the Association of American Medical Colleges, 5 percent of the School’s medical students were black and 3 percent were Hispanic. At Harvard, by contrast, 7 percent were black; 10 percent, Hispanic.

Increasing diversity has been a priority at Hopkins Medicine for several years, but since last April, when an institution-wide diversity committee was formed, efforts have intensified. Departments have outlined plans to effect diversity amid their ranks. A new “Mission, Vision, Values” statement emphasizes diversity. Faculty and staff were surveyed about the institution’s “diversity climate.” And two retreats on the Eastern Shore—one in mid-February and the other in late March—engaged some 65 faculty, medical students and administrative leaders on the topic of diversity.

“It’s good to have a conversation about it,” says Sahael Stapleton, a medical scholar at the retreat, “but lots remains to be seen. Diversity can’t be just a word; it has to be a real concept, an action. Efforts to facilitate it need to be followed through on. Until now, at least, I can’t say I’ve seen that Hopkins has had this as a goal and gone for it.”



Medical scholars and their board of visitors sponsors at a dinner last spring in downtown Baltimore.

Stapleton was an undergrad at UCLA headed for a career as a professional volleyball player when a stint spent cleaning up at the World Trade Center site in late 2001 inspired the 6-foot 8-inch athlete to change course. Like Garcia, he had his pick of medical schools; the board of visitors’ scholarship tipped the balance in favor of Hopkins.

Now a second-year student, he and Garcia say that in class, lack of inclusion manifests itself in subtle ways. “While students are presented with human subjects research involving Caucasians or African Americans,” says Garcia, “there is no research on the Latino community.”

Change won’t happen all by itself, she continues. “We’re still at the point where actions need to be imposed. The numbers of minorities in medical school are abysmally low, not just at Johns Hopkins. It’s important to recognize this now, or it will be more of a problem in 10 or 20 years.”

Stapleton, though, cautions against overemphasizing diversity. “In class,” he says, “no one is aware of who’s African American or Asian or Caucasian. We’re all just students in class. You don’t feel as though you’re in this stuffy, white-man environment, but that you’re with people.”

And both he and Garcia say their class is tremendously diverse in ways other than race and ethnicity. Many minorities are not here on scholarships, they make clear, and one board of visitors’ scholar is not a minority.

“As medical scholars we’re not some kind of select group,” Stapleton insists. “We’re here because, just like everyone else, we worked hard.”

Anne Bennett Swingle

Meyerhoff Professorship

A new professorship designed to attract exceptionally promising underrepresented minorities to the faculty has been endowed by Baltimore-area philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff and his late wife, Jane.

The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Professorship will make it possible for the School of Medicine to recruit junior faculty members committed to increasing opportunities for minorities. It will support a junior faculty member for three to five years, then be made available to another promising scholar, and rotate into the future, thereby changing the composition of faculty and students for generations to come.

In 1989, at University of Maryland Baltimore County, the Meyerhoffs established the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, a leading science-education initiative directed primarily at young African Americans. Many Meyerhoff scholars have been students in Hopkins’ research labs, and others have been in medical school classes at the School of Medicine.

A natural extension of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, the professorship will be overseen by an advisory group consisting of vice deans for faculty and education and senior faculty members. Scholars will be selected through a national search.
 

 

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