October 22, 2004

Vanderbilt, Meharry to co-host regional medical student association meeting

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Maxine Hayes, M.D., delivered the third annual Levi Watkins Jr. Lecture on Diversity in Medical Education. On hand at the event was the lecture’s namesake, Levi Watkins Jr., M.D.
photo by Dana Johnson

Vanderbilt, Meharry to co-host regional medical student association meeting

Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Meharry Medical College will serve as co-hosts of the 2004 American Medical Student Association Regional Conference, today and Saturday.

The conference, “What's Missing From our Black Bags: Treating Health Disparities Through Cultural Competency” is expected to attract more than 300 participants from 12 states and 25 schools. It will be held in Light Hall at Vanderbilt.

Neither school has hosted the conference in the past. This will be the first time the schools have joined together to present the regional meeting. It will also be the first time two schools have co-hosted a regional conference in the Southeast. Much of the joint efforts can be attributed to the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance.

The Alliance, created in 1999, brought together the city’s two medical schools in an effort to bridge the gaps of health care disparities as well as expanding the health care opportunities for the Nashville community.

Since its inception, major initiatives have been created and completed including enhancing the educational, scientific and clinical programs at and between the schools.

The organizers for the AMSA conference, Lynn Martin, a second-year medical student at Vanderbilt and Rama Mulukutla, a second-year medical student at Meharry, say the concept to co-host was first discussed during a national student conference.

The conference will be the largest program hosted by the Meharry and Vanderbilt AMSA chapters.

“Cultural competency is a multifaceted term,” said Mulukutla. “Race, gender, sexual orientation and age are some of the factors that are encompassed under this broad movement. Medical Schools will not do justice to their students' medical training unless they include cultural competency into their programs.

“We hope that after attending this conference students will share the knowledge they gained from the conference and educate their peers at their schools. This is such an important issue — cultural competency. We are so busy learning about the basic science and treatment of patients that we forget about understanding the culture.

Martin agrees.

“It's a way of practicing medicine and being culturally sensitive that is the issue here,” Martin said. “It's their background. A lot of health disparities are a result of cultural incompetency. If a physician is not sensitive to issues surrounding homelessness, for example, a patient who does not have daily access to a refrigerator may receive medications that require refrigeration.”

Both students applaud the support received from both institutions and the Alliance in helping with the conference. Physicians, staff and students from both schools are taking active roles.

Event registration begins today in Light Hall on the Vanderbilt campus, from 7-10:30 p.m. with a wine and cheese social from 8-10:30 p.m. in the student lounge in Light Hall. Shuttles between the school and lodging will be provided.

The keynote speaker will be Denice Cora-Bramble, M.D., executive director of Diana L. and Stephen A. Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The Goldberg Center is one of six Centers of Excellence there. Her areas of expertise and interests include cultural competency, health disparities and leadership development.

“This conference is a direct result of the students from both schools seeing a more diverse America,” said Susanne Brinkley, director of Medical Education for the Alliance. “They want to learn more about serving the various cultures as well as finding ways to intertwine these topics into the classroom discussions and teachings.

“This is such a wonderful collaboration,” Brinkley said. “Since the formation of the Alliance, the willingness and openness of students, faculty and administrations to share has been overwhelming. This co-hosted conference is a great example that the concept is flourishing.”

The goals of the conference are simple — to heighten awareness about the need to include this topic in medical school curricula as well as get medical students, professors and physicians talking about the issues.

“This is a great opportunity for students to see how much they can learn outside the classroom,” Martin said. “We hope the workshops will give students an idea of what it means to be a culturally competent physician. Hopefully they will return to their campuses and it will generate further discussion.”

The AMSA, founded in 1950, is the oldest and largest independent association of physicians-in-training. With more than 40,000 members, the focus of the student-run group includes disparities in medicine, diversity in medicine, leadership development, transforming the culture of medicine and universal health care.

The Southeastern Conference includes schools from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas.