Students of color, first-generation and low-income undergraduates and those from marginalized backgrounds applying to medical school often face uniquely difficult and strenuous challenges due to systemic inequalities in the healthcare and education systems. These barriers can include limited resources and mentorship, financial barriers and implicit biases in the admissions processes.
However, at the College of William and Mary, Minorities in Medicine is making strides in overcoming these structural hurdles and supporting underrepresented students pursuing a medical career. The organization is dedicated to increasing diversity in the field of medicine by providing resources, mentorship and a community for minority pre-medical students. With their commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system, MiM is making a positive impact on the lives of students and the future of healthcare as a whole.
Claire Aminuddin ’24, who will serve as president of the organization next semester, noted that the group came about precisely because the College did not have a group specifically for minority students on the pre-medical track.
“The best things come from finding resources that are lacking,” Aminuddin said. “The Health Careers Club has been here for years, but there wasn’t a targeted group aiming to help minority students in the pre-health field find a community and find support.”
MiM is affiliated with a nationwide network of college organizations providing guidance for medical careers. It is a National Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, or MAPS, chapter of the Student National Medical Association. SNMA provides additional support for MiM’s regular functions.
“They’ll send us various scholarships and programs that would be of interest to our members, as well as help us with connections with other medical schools,” Aminuddin said in reference to SNMA. “For example, we just had EVMS [Eastern Virginia Medical School] come and talk to us.”
For MiM, fostering an atmosphere of learning, sharing and uplifting each other remains the top priority of the organization; this atmosphere is the basis for all endeavors they undertake. MiM launched a mentorship program so that students, especially freshmen, have a reliable support system throughout their academic careers. One of these mentors, Ruth Hailemeskel ’23, found it an invaluable experience.
“I started my junior year, and I really enjoyed it because I was able to connect with students that were starting this journey,” Hailemeskel, an executive board member of MiM, said. “From my experience, I’ve learned that there are a lot of trials and tribulations that I hope other people don’t have to experience. And so, that’s why being a mentor is important to me, and I want to pass that on.”
As the desired result of the mentorship program, maximizing access to learning tools and resources is a chief goal for MiM. Contrasting the many success stories of College graduates transitioning into top medical schools is the stark reality that many other students with fewer resources struggle to stay on the proper course.
“I think that if you’re just not gaining exposure, and it’s hard to get clinical experience, how are you able to actually envision yourself doing this for the rest of your life — for the rest of your career?” Hailemeskel said. “If you’re not able to easily access research opportunities, or all these things you need to do in order to apply for medical school, I think that you just lose interest. So there’s a lot of barriers that are present for minority students on this campus.”
For example, the lack of pre-med advisors has been a major obstacle for afflicted students. Up until very recently when the College introduced two new advisors, only one person — Dr. Beverly Sher — was in charge of meeting all prospective medical students and helping them plan and organize their future after university. Naturally, this placed a strain on Sher and especially posed a problem for graduating students who needed a letter of recommendation. While many other schools have a pre-health advising board that allows a designated team of professionals to distribute the workload of managing pre-health advisees, the College’s small size means that all of this workload was put onto only Sher. Solely having Sher also puts undue pressure on students to establish strong working relationships with her even though they only have limited time to spend with her or have personal differences that would not make them the best fit as Sher’s advisee.
“If you didn’t necessarily click with Dr. Sher or weren’t able to really find rapport with her, what are you supposed to do when it comes to getting your pre-med advisor letter written for med schools if she doesn’t even really know you?” Aminuddin said.
Despite any institutional challenges it may face, MiM remains committed to remedying unequal access. The organization hosts workshops and career panels to help bolster members’ academic preparedness and knowledge. Through these interactions with outside professionals and alumni, current members of MiM have gained new insight into the process. For Corresponding Secretary Kellsey Carter ’23, that has given her a mantra of “keep going.”
“For students who are underrepresented or minorities in medicine, it is very easy to feel isolated because it’s just the environment you’re in,” Carter said. “And I would definitely say, keep going. Don’t allow yourself to let those pressures deter you from pursuing medicine.”
Outside of standard meetings and aims relating to the field of medicine, members also participate in service projects and community outreach. For April, MiM is raising money for the Avalon Center, a non-profit organization that supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. As students who may go on to serve other minority communities, participating in these projects also helps them better match their personal missions with the missions of medical schools.
“I come from Danville, Virginia, a small rural city located near the border of Virginia,” Carter said. “And my experiences with health care and that population definitely instilled a passion in me for wanting to give back to disadvantaged populations. So, I am definitely more aligned with schools that are serving disadvantaged populations or have a primary focus on trying to give back to those populations.”
Hailemeskel echoed these sentiments when describing the often taxing search process for the right school, as one can only apply to a maximum of fifteen schools.
“For me, it was important what communities are nearby the schools because that’s the population you’re going to be working when you’re doing your clinicals,” Hailemeskel said. “I think that was my main focus because I want to be working with marginalized groups, and I want to be, again, advocating for them in the school.”
Applying to medical school is an arduous and deeply personal endeavor, with not just the process but the steps to get there being rooted in many systemic challenges. By banding together and finding a common goal, Minorities in Medicine is not only a profession-oriented networking group, but also an alliance through all ups and downs.
CORRECTION (4/21): This article was updated with additional information about the College’s recent addition of two new pre-med advisors.