January 28, 2019

Opening world of medicine to underrepresented minority children serves as pipeline to medical education, careers

Rynita Bohler had her small audience of elementary school students eating out of the palm of her hand. In her other hand, she held a human brain. Bohler, a second-year medical student at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, is one of dozens of medical students who volunteer to show urban children the world of medicine and science during the annual Reach Out to Youth Day.

"It's cool to give back and help these children explore different careers in the medical field," said Bohler, of Detroit.

That's the mission of Reach Out to Youth Day, now in its 30th year. Presented by the School of Medicine's Black Medical Association chapter, the event seeks to introduce children ages 7 to 11 in underrepresented populations to the possibility of careers in science and medicine. Reach Out to Youth provides urban youth a window into the world of medicine and an understanding that they can cultivate careers in that world. Students explore medicine and science through hands-on workshops and activities presented by medical students and faculty.

"I attended Detroit Public Schools up until the sixth grade, which is why I am especially passionate about this program," said Zoe Smith, a third-year medical student and co-president of the WSU School of Medicine chapter of the Black Medical Association/ Student National Medical Association, which presents Reach Out to Youth each year. "I see a part of myself in every student who participates. Reach Out to Youth is important because it gives us an opportunity to give back to our community. You can't be what you can't see. It is important for us as medical students to be role models for disadvantaged students."

The theme of 2017's Reach Out to Youth was "Play it Safe: Brain Safety." Young visitors explored the anatomy of the human brain and heart using real organs. They also listened for heart auscultations and conducted pupillary reflexes in a clinical skills area. The organizers added a segment on self-esteem last year. The 2018 edition was titled "Fitness and Nutrition: Don't Just Think About It, Be About It."

While the hundreds of student visitors delve into medicine and science, their parents attend workshops on topics ranging from preparing children for careers in medicine to learning about FitKids360, a Detroit-based program in which medical students pair with children and families to emphasize the importance of regular exercise. In the "Parent to Parent" panel, parents of medical students share their experiences with parents of the young attendees who have aspirations of medical careers for their children.

"We want these children to be immersed in the medical arts and sciences, and see that there are careers for them in those fields."

Smith has served as a Reach Out to Youth Parent Program Committee chair. She plans to pursue a career in Dermatology - with a special interest in skin of color - and is conducting research this year at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Harvard's teaching hospital.

"The parent program is especially important to me, because I believe we must educate and empower parents as well. By providing parents with resources and guidance, we can ensure that their children reach their full potential," she said. "Reach Out to Youth not only lets children live their dreams of being 'doctors for a day,' it inspires curiosity and builds confidence in our youth. It is particularly important during Black History Month, which is a time of historical reflection, celebration and service. Hosting the event in February allows BMA/SNMA to celebrate the successes of those who came before us, while inspiring future generations."

"Reflecting back on my youth, I often saw myself in a lot of these children, filled with curiosity of the world around them."

About 400 children annually register for Reach Out to Youth, a program founded by Carolyn King, M.D., a 1993 graduate of the WSU School of Medicine, and Don Horakhty Tynes, M.D., a 1995 graduate. Dr. King continues to serve as an adviser for the event.

"We want these children to be immersed in the medical arts and sciences, and see that there are careers for them in those fields," said Dr. King, who grew up in Detroit and saw the need for a program that introduced urban children to the possibility of medical careers. "When you live in an urban area, you need to be aware of the resources around you and what those resources can provide. They need to see people who look like them and know that they can do that too."

Student organizers and volunteers appear to get just as much out of Reach Out to Youth as do the guests and their parents.

"I truly enjoyed organizing and participating in Reach Out to Youth because it helps to inspire young minds to not only get interested in medicine, but also begin to develop goals and dreams of upholding a wonderful selfless profession," said Joshua Rivers, a third-year medical student now taking part in the National Institutes of Health's Medical Research Scholars Program, a comprehensive research enrichment program designed to attract the most creative, research-oriented students to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. Rivers, who grew up in Detroit and was educated in the River Rouge Schools and Detroit Public Schools systems, is interested in a career in internal medicine, especially cardiology, and hopes to practice medicine in Detroit. "Programs like this are essential for the developing young minds of these children," he said.

"Coming from an inner-city education system, I didn't receive a lot of exposure to programs of this nature. Reflecting back on my youth, I often saw myself in a lot of these children, filled with curiosity of the world around them. If these children leave inspired and excited about medicine, we have truly accomplished our goal."

Adam Milam, Ph.D., M.D., was involved in Reach Out to Youth during his entire medical education at WSU. He graduated in 2016.

"I think this is a way for us to give back to the community," said Milam, a native of Baltimore who earned his doctoral degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University. "These kids get to see people like them going into medicine, and hopefully it sparks their interests and leads them to other programs that will continue their interest and get them into medicine."