June 23, 2006

VUSM student group lands national honors

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Patient Charles Dougherty talks with Brian Engelhardt, M.D., before his umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant last week, as his family looks on.
Photo by Dana Johnson

VUSM student group lands national honors

Considered to be a “small” chapter by Student National Medical Association (SNMA) standards, Vanderbilt's 26-member group made a big impact at the recent national convention in Atlanta by capturing regional “Chapter of the Year” honors for the second time in three years.

SNMA is the nation's oldest and largest independent, student-run organization focused on the needs and concerns of medical students of color. Membership includes nearly 6,000 medical students, pre-medical students, residents and physicians.

Nashville's Meharry Medical College, which founded SNMA in 1964 along with the Howard University School of Medicine, is the largest chapter in the six-member region, with nearly 400 members.

At Vanderbilt, the SNMA works with students, faculty and administrators to foster a more diverse environment, provide health information to underserved areas, and contribute positive leadership to the youth community.

Associate Dean for Diversity in Medical Education George Hill, Ph.D., said the Vanderbilt chapter has benefited from having former SNMA presidents on campus and also from resources allocated by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine dean's office.

“We have had excellent leadership from past and present individuals who are committed to improving the health care of the underserved,” said Hill, the Levi Watkins Jr. Professor.

“Secondly, our dean's office has had resources which we can provide to the students for different activities — attending meetings, bringing in speakers — and I think that has been very helpful as well. We budgeted early on so that they would have sufficient resources because they really have excellent ideas.” Newly elected SNMA Associate Regional Director Muyibat Adelani, a second-year VUSM student, said the most important issue for Vanderbilt right now is presence.

“There were about 25 people with us at the national convention, which is more than we have ever taken,” Adelani said.

“And we are really considered to be a small chapter in the national grand scheme of things, so it was nice to have that many people out to represent us. Our whole region was sitting together and some of our alums were there representing their residency programs so it was really a proud moment, I think, for them to see us win chapter of the year.”

Incoming chapter president Vernon Rayford, a first-year VUSM student, said new-member recruitment for incoming first-year students will begin in August.

“A lot of times people have a tendency to lump diversity and people representing diversity into one group and, being in the South, that one group is African-American,” Rayford said.

“What I have learned, just through the works of the Office of Diversity helping with recruitment and also some of the programs, is that you can see significant diversity within underrepresented groups. I think in the past we have done a big disservice by lumping these groups into one nice clean category to where you get some of the most significant issues but you just graze over a lot of unique things. One of the things SNMA has done is to allow us and the Office of Diversity to see the diversity within our own ranks.”

Rayford believes a larger SNMA presence at Vanderbilt will assist with educating the population about important issues, including cultural competence.

“Let's seek means to tailor our education toward reaching out to underrepresented minorities and helping that population,” he said.

“This is potentially a population that you are going to see once you become a physician, so let's start learning about it now.”