April is National Minority Health Month, which promotes national health equity. One of the ways in which Baylor College of Medicine is contributing to finding solutions for this issue is through the Saturday Morning Science program.
Founded and developed by Dr. Jim Phillips, senior associate dean and professor of pediatrics at BCM and director of the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach, Saturday Morning Science is a community outreach program for 7th through 12th graders from underserved areas in greater Houston.
It’s designed to excite students’ interest in science and health care through lectures from BCM faculty and small break-out sessions led by medical and graduate students.
Growing interest in science
Getting minority students interested in the sciences now may lead them to one day pursue careers in healthcare. This can in turn improve health care to the underserved, since patients tend to seek treatment from physicians from their own racial or cultural background, according to Phillips.
He cites statistics that Hispanic and Latino physicians treat twice as many Hispanic and Latino patients as non-Hispanic physicians, and African-American doctors treat six times as many African-American patients as non-African American physicians.
However, while 28 percent of the country is African-American or Hispanic, only 7 percent of physicians currently practicing in the United States are minorities.
“You can see from these statistics that we need more minority health care providers, and we think Saturday Morning Science is one way to encourage more minorities to go into this field,” Phillips said.
The current session of Saturday Morning Science started in January and will run through May. Last Saturday, students in the program and almost 100 of their parents participated in a college fair attended by 15 schools from Texas and beyond including Washington and Jefferson College, Cornell University, Louisiana State University, Xavier University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Phillips gave a talk to the students about how to prepare for college, selecting a school that is right for them and keys to college success, and parents got information about the many options for financing a college education.
SMS students will have a special treat at the next SMS session, as Dr. Catherine Coleman, retired NASA Astronaut, will be the presenting speaker for the day. The final presenter for this year’s SMS program will be Dr. James Musser, chair of the department of pathology and genomic medicine at The Methodist Hospital.
Select Saturday Morning Science students also have the opportunity to participate in summer research projects with Baylor College of Medicine faculty. Each year, at least 10 students are selected for this program, giving them even more exposure to the sciences.
Over the years, the program – currently in its eighth session – has enrolled hundreds of local students who represent more than 40 middle and high schools throughout the greater Houston area.
Maybe one day, we’ll see some of them back on campus as Baylor College of Medicine medical or graduate students.
-By Dana Benson