From a small HBCU (historically black college and university) to emergency medicine to organizing conferences, Dr. Alden Landry joins me to talk about encouraging and supporting underrepresented minorities in medicine. He has started a group called Tour for Diversity.
Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.
[01:37] Interest in Becoming a Physician
Alden wanted to go to medical school before knowing he wanted to become a doctor. In his third or fourth grade, his grandfather told him that the smartest type of doctor was veterinarians because they took care of patients that couldn’t communicate with them.
Eventually, he got to college and met a bunch of people who wanted to go to medical school. For him, getting from college to medical school made sense. But going from college to doctor, he really didn’t understand the steps in between to get there. He just said he’d figure out how to be a doctor when he’s in medical school.
[Related episode: 10 Traits You Need to Succeed in Medical School]
[03:42] His Premed Journey
Alden ended up at the right college with the right set of mentors, advisors, and people surrounding him.
He went to a small HBCU that has a great track record of putting minorities, specifically Black Americans into careers in the health professions.
They had a summer program that started before your Freshmen year of college where you get a taste of what it’s like to be a premed student. So you get to take intro courses like inorganic and organic chemistry, etc.
He initially struggled with his courses. He took the MCAT twice. He didn’t really prepare for it the first time and didn’t study like he needed to.'I got my score back and it was a shock to the system. I know what I needed to do and it means I need to train for it. I need to prepare for the exam.'Click To Tweet
He knew he could do better and knew his score didn’t represent who he was as a student, as a test taker, and as an applicant to medical school. He also knew he had to do better if he wanted to get accepted to medical school.
He took a very different approach the second time. He took a mock test once a week for the four weeks prior to the exam. He studied and did questions. He also did a summer preparatory program for the MCAT offered at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. It was offered to underrepresented students in medicine. As a result, his score went up tremendously.'I went from being concerned about applying to medical school with such a weak score to really having opportunities to pick and choose where I wanted to go.'Click To Tweet
[Related episode: 3 Biggest Mistakes When Preparing for the MCAT]
[09:30] Thought Process Behind Which Schools to Apply To
Alden is originally from Texas which he considered home although he had also lived in other parts of the country.
He knew that it was important for him to be comfortable while he was in medical school. He wasn’t looking at a lot of schools in the north primarily due to the cold weather. So he looked for schools he was going to be close to where he considered home. He wanted to be within driving distance from friends and family. But he also knew he wanted to be outside of Texas where all of his friends and family are living. So he wanted to have that buffer but also be able to overcome that buffer if necessary.
With all the schools he applied to, he was looking for state schools over private schools because he wanted to control the cost of his education. He was looking for places that offered support for underrepresented minority students.'When I walked into the institution that I chose for medical school... it felt right. I felt comfortable. I felt like I was at home.'Click To Tweet
In all the other institutions he applied to, he felt warm and fuzzy feelings from a number of them. But only one of them made him feel he was going to be supported and allowed to grow the way he was hoping to.
[Related episode: How to Choose a Medical School & Put Together a School List]
[12:02] Thought Process Behind Picking Emergency Medicine
He recalls picking emergency medicine after going through a “medical student crisis.” His medical school was a traditional, two-year pre-clerkship in the classroom and the last two years were in the hospital.
When he started medical school, he relied on other people to give him advice and almost tell him what he should be. He knew he liked anatomy and working with his hands. Everyone told him he should be a surgeon so he began to buy into that mentality. He joined the surgery interest group and started shadowing surgeons.
However, he didn’t get exposed to surgery until Jan/Feb of his third year at medical school. And this was the time when people would have mostly figured out what they want to be in medical school. Then he got to his surgery rotation and he hated it. It just didn’t fit him and he wasn’t comfortable.
Nearing the end of his third year, he hadn’t decided on what he wanted. So he had to figure out what was next.
Fortunately, Alden has always had a mentor who was there for him all the way and happened to be an emergency medicine doctor. They talked about his different rotations and his mentor asked him about what he liked about each of them.
Eventually, he realized he liked the acuity and the acute interventions for people who were ill. But he didn’t like the long-term aspects of the care.
He was then invited by his mentor to hang out with him in the emergency medicine department to do a short elective. True enough, it was something he loved. He liked the variety, the management of the illnesses and diseases, as well as the people – the staff, the nurses, the techs, and the other doctors he worked with.'I realized that all along, emergency medicine was the specialty for me.'Click To Tweet
Finally, he committed to emergency medicine towards the end of his third year. He had to scramble and do away rotations. He had to find opportunities and was fortunate to come to Boston and do a visiting clerkship program based at Harvard Medical School. He ended up matching for residency in emergency medicine.
[17:40] The Power of Mentorship
A lot of people struggle with finding mentors because they don’t do the followup. Alden would go to conferences often as a premed student. He’d get business cards from people and reach out to them and ask questions.
Sometimes, it can be a one-off conversation, other times, it may lead to something, but you never know if you don’t send the email. Reaching out to different people was what allowed him to identify mentors and identify people who are going to be in his life constantly to help him make it to the next level.'Many people who are passionate about mentoring and advising love to just have conversations.'Click To Tweet
Now that he’s on the other side where he’s in the position to be the mentor for many students, he gives out 50 business cards during conferences and sends 5 emails back. There are students who send him emails that he’s able to build a relationship with. For those who fail to follow through, he feels it’s a missed opportunity.
Alden believes there are a lot of people out there who are willing to use the time they’re commuting or in-between meetings to have conversations with students, provided that students also did their part and step up their relationship with the mentor.
[Related episode: Getting a Mentor to Guide Your Premed Path]
[22:50] Best Way to Reach Out to Mentors
Some students can be sending out very long emails. What makes it easier for Alden to read would be students could mention their name, where they met, and a bit of a background as to their “why” they asked him to be their mentor.'Short, simple, clean emails are always best – with just a re-introduction, the question, and then the why for the question.'Click To Tweet
Sending out this kind of email would help Alden gauge how much time he needs to invest in the conversation as well as what’s expected of him to bring to the table.
Moreover, it’s on the part of the student to determine whether or not they want to continue interface with the person they start the conversation with. Alden would be happy to have 15-minute conversations and tell them about the opportunities they have in their office.
It’s not just about sending the first email. You should also be able to send follow-up emails and updates. Alden, for instance, would send updates every 4-5 months or when something major happens in his life, both personal or professional. He would also email when he has a question or he’s trying to make a decision around something that’s within their area of expertise.
It’s really important that students are conscious of the ask they have for their mentors. But they should also understand that these relationships require cultivating if they want them to continue.'Eventually, the mentor will realize it whether stated formally or not, that this is a mentor-mentee relationship and it needs to be cultivated as well from their end.'Click To Tweet
[26:00] The Impetus Behind Tour for Diversity
The Tour for Diversity’s co-director, Kameron Leigh Matthews was on the board with Alden for the Student National Medical Association. She was the president and Alden was the premedical board member. He was responsible for generating content for premed students, making sure their needs were met by the organization.
They realized they were asking premed students to come to conferences where they didn’t really have a great understanding of what it’s going to be. It means paying for travel and accommodation that they may not be able to afford.
They wanted to flip this model so they could bring the conference to the students. They presented this idea to the organization. They wanted to bring the experts to the students. And all the students had to do was show up and learn. However, no one took them seriously.
Both Kameron and Alden went both their separate ways. As they’ve established their names in the field years later, they were getting expertise and people started to take them seriously. They pitched to a couple of founders and eventually was able to find funding for the same concept they planned many years ago as medical students.
This was the beginning of the Tour for Diversity. The first time they did the tour they went to five historically black colleges in the south. They went from campus to campus everyday doing pop-up premed conferences from 8 am to 4 pm.'Not only do we bring the content to the students but we've brought potential mentors to those students.'Click To Tweet
They came up with this idea in 2006 but wasn’t able to execute it until 2012. Alden explains that if you have this idea and you’re told no, it’s not always no – sometimes, it’s just not yet.
So they started their tour in 2012 and they’ve done tours, other events, and webinars since then. They’re on hiatus for now because they also have other hats to fill, but stay tuned because they’re starting in 2020!
The Tour for Diversity has YouTube videos that they have broken down to easy-to-consume presentations. They’re on Twitter and Facebook and they’re constantly posting opportunities for students both for undergrads and medical students.
They also have an active blog so go back and read about the blogs from the tour. All of their mentors are also engaged in so many different ways and they’ve started their own programs. So be sure to check them out as well.
[34:52] Beyond Just Great Grades and MCAT Score'Just because you have great numbers and you do well in taking tests doesn't mean that you're going to be a good doctor.'Click To Tweet
Alden underlines the importance of putting in the effort more than just relying on having great scores. Just because you’re a good test-taker doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to take the extra mile to take care of the patient who has a need and isn’t met by a textbook answer.
Medical schools are now starting to see the light when it comes to who they accept to medical school. They’re accepting students who are going to be addressing health issues, not just by prescribing medications and performing surgeries. But also those that are addressing the needs of rural communities or intercity communities or other communities like the LGBT or the immigrants.
So don’t just focus on the grades and the MCAT, but what’s going to be the outcome and the impact that the person accepted to the medical school is going to have. This goes with race and ethnicity as well in terms of who takes care of patients who are more likely to be serving underserved communities.
If the whole institution of medicine is really interested in creating health equity then we have to think about who accept to the medical school and what they’re actually going to do as doctors, not just about how well they do on the MCAT.
[37:05] The Greatest Barrier of the Underrepresented People in Medical School
Statistics show the decreasing number of underrepresented people going to medical school. Alden thinks this is partly because it’s harder for people with disadvantaged backgrounds to see themselves becoming doctors. This is a multifactorial issue that we need to look at and unpack. This said, not only one answer will fix the problems.'You can't be what you can't see and people can't necessarily see themselves as a doctor.'Click To Tweet
The AAMC data states that 80% of medical students come from the top two quantiles of family income. So if you come from an affluent family, there are more resources available for you. There’s a higher likelihood for you to get into colleges. You’re going to be able to afford the test-prep services.
When you’re coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, the conversations that you have about education aren’t the same. The conversations that you have about how to be successful and how to identify mentors are different. The conversations about science and the language being used at home are different.
There are lots of talents that are underdeveloped because of the way our finances and wealth are distributed in our country.
[39:44] Final Words of Wisdom
You can do this. You have to step outside of your comfort zone. You have to stretch yourself and push yourself. Take advantage of some of the opportunities that are out there that will help you grow.
Alden encourages Freshmen and Sophomore students to do programs like the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) sponsored by the AAMC.
Look into your communities and see if there’s an active national medical association chapter and engage with them. See what opportunities are happening locally in as far as volunteering and community service at hospitals.
Lastly, consider thinking about other careers in the health professions because becoming a medical doctor isn’t necessarily the right decision for everybody. Think about whether it’s a lifestyle that fits you better than becoming a medical doctor.
Stay tuned for my upcoming book, Premed Mentors. We’re going to gather a bunch of underrepresented physicians and physicians who come from different places, look differently, and speak differently. We hope students can resonate with them and will give them the motivation to move forward on this journey.
Reach out to Alden on Twitter @AMLandryMD and he can help you connect with people.
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