Alamance County Students Are Dreaming Big with Medical Bridge: Minority Males in Medicine
A journal article titled “An American Crisis: The Lack of Black Men in Medicine” was the impetus for what has become the successful Medical Bridge: Minority Males in Medicine program in Alamance County, NC. The article presented startling data showing that currently in the US there are fewer black males applying to and entering medical school than in the 1970s.
When Dr. Roslyn Crisp, DDS, read the article, she knew there had to be some way for Alamance Community College (ACC) to help address that challenge. Dr. Crisp shared the article with her fellow ACC Board of Trustees members for discussion. The Board realized that ACC could help by tackling the primary barrier—the belief gap within the minority male student population.
ACC reached out to the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS) for its collaboration in developing what became the Medical Bridge program. The goal was to develop a holistic approach to address not only the belief gap, but also the interest, knowledge, and resources gaps that keep minority males from pursuing medical careers.
ACC also reached out to Carolina Biological Supply Company (Carolina), which helped it select appropriate labs for the program. When the coronavirus epidemic limited some of the students’ in-person participation, Carolina staff worked with their ACC counterparts on identifying the right mix of topics and specific instructional kits for at-home use. Whether in-person or at-home, all the activities focused on building ABSS students’ interest in medical and STEM careers.
The Medical Bridge program, designed for grades 6–12, expands ABSS minority male student exposure to the medical sciences and other STEM subjects. In addition to learning sessions, students receive encouragement and interact with inspirational minority males in medicine. They and their families also learn about college prep resources and local opportunities for college.
Students enjoy a 3-week summer camp experience based at the ACC campus in Burlington, NC. During the camp, students are immersed in math, science, and writing activities that lay the groundwork for success in medical and STEM careers. Students learn about and conduct hands-on investigations in diverse topics such as the circulatory system, DNA and genetics, biomedical engineering, and others.
One week of the camp is devoted to student visits to the nearby UNC School of Medicine where they spend time with minority professors, students, and physicians. That time is an invaluable experience for building interest, belief, and excitement in students’ minds and hearts.
The first year of Medical Bridge camp had 35 students in grades 6, 7, and 8. A new grade 6 class has been added each year as previous students advance. By 2021, participation had grown to nearly 100 students. Approximately 50% of students continue after their first year of camp.
ACC instructors lead the camp classes and activities. There is one teacher for every 8 students, enabling good teacher-student interaction. Instructors also help coordinate visits to area colleges and businesses and visits by area STEM professionals.
The Medical Bridge program continued even during the pandemic, albeit remotely. Students received real-time lessons from ACC instructors via Zoom meetings on a set schedule. They also were able to conduct hands-on labs using Carolina lab kits specifically designed for at-home use. The sessions were recorded and posted to YouTube so students could replay them, or even do their experiments again!
Numerous local and regional organizations have stepped up to support the Medical Bridge program. Their support comes in a variety of forms. Here are some examples:
- The Burroughs Wellcome Fund in nearby Research Triangle Park, NC, awarded a $150,000 grant to ACC to provide for 3 years of the Medical Bridge summer camp program
- Local physicians meet with students and discuss allied health careers, mentorship, professionalism and communication, the journey to M.D., resumes, and even “guess the diagnosis” exercises
- Area businesses take students on tours of their facilities where they meet scientists conducting different STEM activities such as medical imaging, pharmacology research, medical rehabilitation, micro device development and use, and regenerative medicine
- The UNC School of Medicine hosts students for one week each summer, where they meet with and shadow minority professors, students, and physicians and can “talk shop” with them
- During the fall semester following summer camp, the Elon University Physician Assistant program hosts students one evening per week for 7 weeks, during which time they shadow the college students and learn about human anatomy through cadaver study
One of the most exciting events for students and their families is the commencement ceremony, also hosted by the UNC School of Medicine, at the end of summer camp. It recognizes the rigorous studies students completed during camp. The event is always well attended by students and their families.
ACC’s Dr. Scott Doran, coordinator of the Medical Bridge program, relays some parent responses to the program. One mother said, “It’s so difficult raising black sons on your own. They get so many negative messages from everywhere. I just so appreciate that there is this positive message for them.” A father said, “I was so intimidated to even step foot on the UNC campus. You folks made it so welcoming, and just having my son on campus was a big step for him and us.”
Parents also reported that after the summer camp, their sons enjoyed science more and did better in their science classes at school. Dr. Doran expresses the impact the program has had on him: “This has been the most meaningful thing I’ve been associated with in my career.”
The Medical Bridge program is receiving local and regional media attention as news of its success spreads. Here are some examples of the coverage:
- Fox 8 News featured the Medical Bridge program
- The Triad Today television program interviewed ACC staff about the Medical Bridge program
- The Burlington Times-News discussed the Medical Bridge program in conjunction with Elon University’s tutoring program
Carolina Supports the Bridge
Carolina is proud to play a part in the success of the Medical Bridge program. As Dr. Doran explains, “we want all our programs to be engaging and hands-on, which is what we get with the kits from Carolina Biological.”
The Medical Bridge program uses numerous Carolina lab kits, including these:
- Constructing a Model of the Human Heart Student Mini Kit
- Carolina’s Young Scientist™ Heart Dissection Kit
- Synthetic Blood Typing Student Kit
- Physiology in Action Student Mini Kit