Studies show that minority patients who see doctors of the same race have better patient outcomes. However, Black doctors are significantly underrepresented in medicine. A 2019 report from Association of American Medical Colleges showed that only 5% of physicians in the workforce identify as Black or African American.

The College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Medical Mentorship Navigation Program is hoping to bridge this gap. Designed to increase diversity in medicine and other health-related professions, the program recently welcomed 10 undergraduate minority students from the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences for a mentorship session led by Director of Health Equity Innocent Akujuobi.

An emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health, Akujuobi shared his own journey into medicine and gave them practical advice for gaining a competitive edge in getting accepted to medical school.  He spoke about the importance of MCAT scores and gave them practical tips in studying for the medical school admissions exam.  He also spoke about the value of doing research and gaining clinical experience from job shadowing before applying to medical school.

“A program like this is exceptionally important because often times underrepresented students aren’t exposed to some of these spaces,” says Akujuobi. “And so just to have an opportunity to visit and tour a medical school or to work with physicians and do research and to have folks that are advocating for them behind closed doors, it makes a world of a difference.”

The mentorship program pairs underrepresented students who have a strong academic record and a passion for medicine with faculty members and community physicians. The mentorships, along with facilitated learning sessions, help students better prepare themselves to meet medical school admissions requirements and inspire them to pursue a career in medicine or another health-related profession.

While the program is in its second year, this is the first time that participants are meeting in-person as a group.  The students spent the last year participating in a series of webinars to learn about medical school requirements, credentials and dynamics.

In addition to the learning modules and mentorship, the program gives practical tools and resources, including access to Kaplan MCAT Prep Courses.

“I’ve always wanted to do medicine but realized that I had no idea what I was doing or where to start,” says Michaela Crooks, a Burnett School senior who wants to be a pediatrician. “We have gotten a lot of resources including test prep materials that are not exactly affordable for many of us. It’s been very good so far it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

The students will also have the opportunity to shadow physicians in the emergency department at Orlando Health and at the Oct. 28 meeeting with Akujuobi, were surprised with scrubs and white coats to wear during their shadowing experiences.

“The mentorship has been great,” Sarah Albright, a biomedical sciences senior. “Having a program like this that supports undergraduate students of color is 100% needed because usually we come from background that may not have a strong support network and we don’t really know how to navigate this journey. You don’t want to wait until you’re applying to medical school to realize that you need to do shadowing or research. So a program like this is really needed to help us along this journey.”

Biomedical sciences senior Nnaemeka Ude is in the process of doing medical school admissions interviews and has already interviewed at UCF’s College of Medicine.

“I had a great mentor who helped me with interview skills and just all the steps that I needed to take,” he says. “I was able to shadow and get research and volunteering opportunities as well as study materials and it really helped me a lot. I think I did a lot better than I probably would have done without those study materials.”

Before joining the College of Medicine this fall, Akujuobi completed an administrative fellowship at Orlando Health with a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and health equity. He previously served as an instructor for the Mentoring in Medicine Science Pathfinders Program in Washington, DC.

“I have a passion for mentorship as I am a byproduct of many different enrichment programs,” Akujuobi says, “and it was through those enrichment programs that I understood how to navigate my way into medical school. And so I have a firsthand understanding of the importance of these kinds of programs.”