New UofL program offers support for students of color interested in the medical profession

Lack of mentorship and exposure to the medical field is often a barrier for Black and Brown students interested in becoming doctors, but UofL is working to change that through the Porter Scholars in Medicine Program.

“The road to becoming a doctor is a long and often bumpy one for everyone. Having a community to support a student and provide guidance can make the difference between wearing a white coat and giving up on that dream,” said Brit Anderson, a physician in UofL’s Department of Pediatrics. “Students who do not have family and friends in the medical field may miss out on this supportive medical community.”

Anderson, along with V. Faye Jones, associate vice president for health affairs – diversity initiatives at the Health Sciences Center and vice chair of inclusive excellence in the Department of Pediatrics, teamed up with Leondra Gully, advisor for the Woodford R. Porter Scholarship Program, to create the new initiative.

The program is aimed at UofL’s Porter Scholars, a scholarship program for exceptional undergraduate students of color from Kentucky and neighboring Indiana counties. First-year students through seniors interested in health care go through an application process to take part in the niche Porter Scholars in Medicine Program, now in its second year.  

Students receive mentoring and shadowing experiences from UofL physicians, and are also able to participate in clinical experiences including simulation and ultrasound. They learn about the medical school application process and entrance exam, gain insight related to the history of medical disparities in underrepresented communities and connect with students in UofL’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association. The program also hosts book clubs and discussions.

“I don’t think people realize the value of this program; there were no specific programs for Black and Brown students wanting to go into medicine. This a welcome space, and a different feeling of support – it’s what we need,” said Hayley Benson, a biology major and one of 17 students participating in this year’s Porter Scholars in Medicine program.

Diversifying the medical field

Gully says the program not only supports students interested in becoming physicians, but the ultimate outcome is far reaching – to diversify the medical field.

“We know from life experiences and the literature more diverse doctors are needed,” she said. “Diversity in the medical field has been proven to impact health disparities for marginalized communities and goes a long way in helping those communities receive equitable health care and improve patient outcomes.”

Senior Diane Appiasie can relate. She says her interest in medicine stems from the impact of health care providers throughout her life, and the aspiration to provide the same quality of care for others.

“I have been further driven to pursue a career in the medical field by a desire to continue advocating for health equity as a health care professional,” says Appiasie, who hopes to focus on a career in emergency medicine and neurology.

One future goal of the program is to engage students in off-campus experiences. Gully and her team are working to coordinate an opportunity this fall for Porter Scholars to see a live surgery through the Kentucky Science Center Pulse of Surgery program. Organizers also hope to explore ways to eventually secure funding for students who want to attend medical school.

“We know this program can be impactful, and we’re excited to see it grow,” Anderson said. “It is such an honor to work with this team and meet these wonderful students as we strive to advance health equity in our community.”