WMU News

WMU, KPS and MSU/KCMS unite to boost minority health careers

August 11, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- If a group of Kalamazoo educators and community leaders have their way, minority students from the Kalamazoo Public Schools will be heading for health care careers in record numbers as the next century begins.

A $349,983 made through the Association of American Medical Colleges will come to the community to fund a five-year initiative to coordinate resources and efforts aimed at boosting the number of minority students headed for a wide range of health care professions. The award was announced last month in Washington, D.C., by AAMC and by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich., and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Princeton, N.J., which are partners in the national project.

The award will fund the Kalamazoo Health Partnership Initiative, which will involve Western Michigan University, Michigan State University/Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, the Kalamazoo Public Schools and community organizations from across the city.

Beginning this fall with KPS seventh graders, partners in the effort will focus on informing students about health care opportunities and guiding interested students into health careers through counseling, mentoring, job shadowing, enhanced academic and laboratory experiences, special health occupations course work and internships. The partners will bring their resources to the task of improving basic academic achievement levels, increasing minority enrollment in health professions education and improving retention of those students once they enroll in higher education.

"This partnership with the institutions primarily responsible for educating future minority applicants is critical to the success of this effort," says Dr. Bernardine Lacey, director of WMU's School of Nursing who will direct the community-wide effort. "We have a wonderful resource here to offer to students in the public schools and the public schools are a wonderful resource for us. This will result in a closer relationship between the public school system and the universities."

"The initiative's focus on fostering academic achievement and the desire to excel dovetails perfectly with the mission of KPS and with the recent moves in the district to increase student achievement," according to Dr. Kay Royster, KPS superintendent who has been deeply involved in development of the project.

Dr. Tom M. Johnson, who recently retired as assistant dean and chief executive officer of MSU/KCMS, was involved in putting together the Kalamazoo initiative before he stepped down. He says the project fits in nicely with a number of other efforts involving both MSU and its Kalamazoo campus. His successor, Dr. Robert P. Carter, agrees.

"We are proud to be a part of a project that complements the existing efforts of both MSU/KCMS and MSU College of Human Medicine to attract minority students into medicine," Carter says, "and we welcome another opportunity to collaborate with WMU. Such collaborations have been consistently rewarding and productive."

Other education and community organizations that will be actively involved include Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the NAACP, the Hispanic American Council and the Black Nurses Association of Kalamazoo. Members of the Kalamazoo African American community and church and school organizations across the city also will join the effort.

The Kalamazoo effort will join similar efforts around the nation that have been funded through "Project 3000 by 2000," which was begun by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1991. The effort is a response to the nationwide shortage of students headed for health care professions and its goal is to boost the numbers of minorities in the medical school pipeline.

In 1996, the Health Professions Partnership Initiative was added to the project to encourage science-rich academic medical centers to join forces with other educational institutions in their communities to address the root causes of minorities' lack of representation in the health professions and to enrich the academic preparation of all students.

"Preparing a health professions workforce that reflects the diversity of the community it serves is in the public interest," says Lacey. "It is important that health care services be provided by professionals who relate well to the populations they are serving."

Despite that need and the best efforts of both universities to attract minority applicants, she says, the number of minorities in many of the professional health programs remains much too small, with many categories of minority enrollment still at less than 5 percent.

To address the growing need, Lacey says the project will involve close cooperation among faculty members at all three institutions as they work to explore the range of career possibilities and familiarize very young students with local higher education opportunities. Although the goal of the project is to increase minority representation in health care fields, the project will impact many more students, especially in the middle school grades. Broad awareness activities will introduce the idea of health care careers to all students before the project moves to a more focused group of students.

"It is vital that students be exposed to a variety of health care career opportunities," Lacey says. "Most students are familiar with physicians but are less likely to know about careers available as a specialist in speech pathology, occupational therapy or blind rehabilitation or as a physician assistant. Students also are in need of solid counseling to ensure that they are prepared through course work to enter these professions."

Handling the day-to-day task of coordinating activities among the school and universities will be Helen Truss, a registered nurse and a clinical supervisor in WMU's School of Nursing. Truss has worked in the community for a number of years, holding positions at Nazareth College, Bronson Methodist Hospital and the Family Health Center.

The Association of American Medical Colleges represents the 125 accredited U.S. medical schools;

the 16 accredited Canadian medical schools; some 400 major teaching hospitals, including 74 Veterans Administration medical centers; 87 academic and professional societies and the nation's 67,000 medical students and 102,000 residents.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It was founded in 1972 with a receipt of a bequest from the industrialist whose name it bears and has made more than $2.6 billion in grants.

The goal of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is to help people help themselves throughout the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations. Established in 1930, the foundation targets its grants toward specific areas. These include: health; food systems and rural development; youth and education, and higher education; and philanthropy and volunteerism.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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