Kaden Bowie, a sophomore at Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School, wants to change the health care system that he has seen fail many in his East Baltimore community. Last fall, he earned acceptance to a three-day Health Leadership Course, where he attended a workshop series presented by the Pediatric Diversity Council of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. Through these workshops, sponsored by MERIT (Medical Education Resources Initiative for Teens), Kaden learned how structural inequities are embedded in the fabric of society.
Before the conference, Kaden says he “was never able to put a name” on how social determinants of health affect individual health outcomes. Now that’s changed.
The three-day workshop was for prospective MERIT Scholars. MERIT is a rigorous mentorship and training program that educates and empowers students from underrepresented backgrounds who aspire to become health professionals and agents of transformation.
Kaden, who plans to become a surgeon, and other prospective MERIT scholars examined social determinants of health with a focus on asthma disparities in Baltimore, ultimately leading him to see substandard health care as part of a larger, systematic problem. “Now I look at everything from that viewpoint,” says Kaden, who in January officially was named a MERIT scholar.
The workshop also gave Kaden and his peers a hands-on preview of “relationship-centered care,” an approach that builds trust and increases patient compliance with health prevention and treatment plans.
The overarching goal of the workshop? “To teach the students as future health care providers about how to partner with families in the delivery of health care,” says Marquita Genies, faculty chair of the Pediatric Diversity Council and an assistant professor of pediatrics.
Workshop volunteer Tai Hairston, a second-year resident in the pediatrics health equity track, advised high school participants using the same sensitivity required for relationship-centered care. “[They] may have their own social, financial or health barriers, and it was important to communicate that we, as pediatricians, care about them as well,” Hairston says.
Workshop participant Samiatu Yussuf, a sophomore at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, practiced her communication skills in a clinical scenario concerning a patient with uncontrolled asthma. Role-playing as pediatricians, Samiatu and others chose their words thoughtfully to gain the trust of Hairston and other resident physicians posing as patients.
Samiatu, a MERIT scholar who aspires to become a neurosurgeon, remembers rude treatment from staff members in her pediatrician’s office. The role-playing exercise taught her “how to speak with patients with care,” she says, adding, “you don’t know their story.”
MERIT scholars shadow pediatricians and attend department-sponsored workshops as part of the program’s partnership with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Genies says that just as residents in her department’s health equity track aim to reform public policy, she expects MERIT scholars to do the same. “Hopefully we’ll make them aware that if they do pursue medicine, it will be in a position that also involves being an advocate for those whose voices aren’t listened to,” she says.