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HBCU scholars program expanding enrollment

Mar. 11, 2021, 9:35 AM


by Matt Schorr

The James Puckette Carter Scholars Program, the result of a partnership between Meharry Medical College (MMC), Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF), intended to increase the number of physicians who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in health care, is expanding to double its enrollment capacity.

The program was established four years ago and initially included only first-year MMC medical students interested in pediatrics. Applicants participated in an eight-week, intensive summer research program at VUMC.

Now, in addition to a maximum of five first-year medical students interested in pediatrics, the program will include five first-year MMC students interested in internal medicine. Additionally, it will continue ongoing, quarterly meetings to focus on leadership in the second and third years of medical school, and provide a one-year, intensive research program for up to two scholars in the program.

“The inspiration for expanding the program was based on events of last summer and my struggle as a mentor to five Meharry Medical College students while the civil unrest was unfolding. I wanted to set an example of how to address adversity during the moments of unrest across America during the summer,” said Michael DeBaun, MD, MPH, professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at VUMC, and principal investigator for the program, “specifically, George Floyd and Brianna Taylor’s death and America’s response.”

“As physician-scientists, we only have a few tools to initiate academic activism,” DeBaun said, “and writing grants to improve the lives of others is one of those tools. This summer, we decided to write a grant that was recently funded by Burroughs Wellcome Fund to double the size of this program. We were also fortunate to get additional financial support from the president of Meharry Medical College, Dr. James Hildreth, and the VUMC departments chairs of Pediatrics and Medicine, Dr. Steven Webber and Dr. Kim Rathmell, respectively.”

Wonder Drake, MD, professor of Medicine at VUMC, and a principal investigator for the program, noted that the course’s education curriculum is bi-directional.

“The students bring brilliance through their experience,” she said. “Many of the students are first-generation graduates of college, and listening to them relay their experiences is rewarding. The students bring a new level of enthusiasm and energy to the mission of medical discovery and leadership.”

Those new experiences offer key insights to boundaries of research and leadership, which, according to Drake, allows the mentors to learn as much from the students as the students do from them.

The program tests the primary hypothesis that medical students from HBCU participating in an intensive research experience will produce a higher proportion of HBCU students becoming physician-scientists and leaders. The grant has three aims:

  • To increase the quality of the research experience for MMC medical students during the summer prior to their second year;
  • To establish a one-year, intensive research program; and
  • To establish a mentoring network of senior investigators that will provide intensive research experiences and academic mentorship to medical students from MMC.

“This is not just an eight-week summer research program,” DeBaun said. “It’s an in-depth mentoring and leadership experience during the early years of their medical student journey.”

The Scholars program is named after James Puckette Carter, MD, the first African American faculty member in Vanderbilt’s Department of Pediatrics and the first full-time African American on the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine faculty. He served there from 1965-1976.

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