A UCF medical student has received national recognition for her work in reducing healthcare disparities among minorities.

Hannah Wilson, a third-year doctor of medicine candidate, received the Excellence in Public Health Service Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The award recognizes medical students’ contributions to public health in their community.

Tracy MacIntosh, associate dean of Access, Belonging and Community Engagement at UCF’s College of Medicine, congratulates Wilson on receiving this national recognition.

“Hannah’s strong commitment to health equity, demonstrated by her clinical research and community health experiences, make her a most deserving candidate for this award,” MacIntosh says. “She has led sustainable programs to inspire, mentor and support students from historically marginalized groups, and has consistently gone above and beyond the expectations of a medical student to serve in leadership and clinical capacities to address the needs of students and patients from marginalized groups.”

At UCF, Wilson is a program leader for the Medical Enrichment for Diverse Students (M.E.D.S.), a project created by medical students that provides mentorship and clinical exposure to Orlando students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in medicine.

Students from Evans, Oakridge, and Jones high schools have benefitted from mentorship, clinical skills workshops, patient simulations and tours at the medical school. The goal is to increase representation in the medical field so healthcare providers better represent the patients they serve.

Hannah Wilson teaches students from Evans, Oakridge and Jones high schools how to perform sutures during a clinical skills workshop as part of the M.E.D.S. program. (Photo courtesy of the UCF College of Medicine)

“This award means a lot to me,” Wilson says. “I didn’t do these things for the awards. I did these things because I was passionate about them. It’s nice to be recognized for it, especially coming to the end of my medical school career. It’s a good feeling that my work doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Data shows a staggering gap in diversity among physicians compared to the general population. The Association of American Medical Colleges reported in 2019 that only 5% of physicians in the nation identify as Black and 5.8% as Hispanic. This lack of diversity among physicians has been correlated with poor healthcare outcomes among patients of color. Research has shown that patients from racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to receive better communication, culturally competent care and have improved health outcomes when treated by healthcare providers who share their racial or ethnic background.

“Minority communities have a general mistrust of the healthcare system,” Wilson says. “So when a patient walks into the room and sees someone that looks like them, they feel more comfortable sharing aspects of their story as to what brought them in. That can better help with diagnosis. And when they’re able to have that trust with the physician, they are more likely to follow the treatment plans, trusting that the doctor has their best interest.”

Wilson has also served as president of the Student National Medical Association, where she led initiatives to help bring more awareness to healthcare disparities and issues faced by minority or marginalized communities.

She also volunteered with the Chapman Compassionate Care clinic, a student-run clinic that provides care to the homeless population in downtown Orlando. As community outreach coordinator, she educated patients on testing for sexually-transmitted diseases, used Narcan for drug overdoses and connected patients to relevant resources.

Also at UCF, Wilson pioneered the Bleeding with Dignity project geared at fighting period poverty by distributing menstrual hygiene products to those in need. Using funding she received from the College of Medicine’s Health Equity Scholars program, she packaged period care kits that were donated to student-run clinics and women’s shelters.

“I am very passionate about women’s health and that’s why I want to become an OB-GYN,” Wilson says. “The maternal mortality rate among Black women is very high, and I believe having that physician there who looks like [them] and will believe [their] concerns is one of the biggest ways to tackle that disparity.”