An uplifting dose excitement could be felt as 70 Twin Cities Black youth strolled down the halls of Hennepin Healthcare’s Clinic & Specialty Center. Their curiosity and hungry minds were also in full force November 4 at the Black Youth with Stethoscopes Youth Summit.
The latest Hennepin Healthcare Talent Garden series event featured these youth joining in on panel discussions with healthcare professionals, followed by hands-on simulated activities using stethoscopes and real medical equipment including blood draws, dentistry, baby delivery, dermatology and more!
During one of the four panel sessions, the inquisitive youth posed questions ranging from what classes to take in high school to prepare for medical school to how long it takes to become a dentist. Eventually, the conversation moved to biology and research when a student asked the panel and if any of them followed that path in medical school.
Dr. Julia Joseph-DiCaprio, President and Founder of Leap Pediatric and Adolescent Care and former Chief of Pediatrics with Hennepin Healthcare, said it’s never too early to consider a career in research, which she said serves as a valuable bridge to a healthcare career.
Then Dr. Joseph-DiCaprio deferred to Dr. Warren McKinney, VP of Equity in Research and an Investigator with Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute (HHRI) to get his thoughts on pursuing a healthcare career in research. Dr. McKinney who attended Vassar College, a small school in New York, for his undergraduate studies later earned a combined master’s degree in African-American Studies and Sociology from Yale University and a PhD in Sociology from Columbia University. He shared the educational steps on his research journey, saying that both types of college environments will provide great opportunities to pursue a career in research.
“As an undergrad, none of my classes had more than 20 people in them, so you get a close relationship with your professors,” Dr. McKinney said. “A university is where you’ll have opportunities to participate in research as a student because they have a lot more ongoing research studies and clinical centers,” Dr. McKinney said. “There’s a small trade-off, but you can make it into research or medicine in either a liberal arts school or a more traditional university.”
Dr. Ndidiamaka Koka, a family medicine physician at Hennepin Healthcare’s Lake Street Clinic, also shared a story about her education in research which included two years of volunteering for a botany program at her high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, when she took care of two greenhouses.
“I took care of the plants,” Dr. Koka said. “I was learning botany and learning all about biology,” she added. “I did research in college about gibberellins (a plant hormone that regulates key processes in plants) for work study, so I could stay in school. So, thinking about all the ways you can be involved in research is important.”
As the youth moved onto the hands-on instruction sessions, they worked with surgery simulators, ultrasounds, dental draining tools, pulse oximeters and other medical equipment.
Participating in the afternoon learning experiences filled these youth with great hope including Travaita Black, a 12-year-old who attends Benilde-St. Margaret’s and is considering two different healthcare careers.
“I’m very excited because I want to be in the pediatric field,” Travaita said. “But I also want to be in the emergency medicine field where I’ll get to do a blood draw, learn how to do ultrasounds and treat cancer patients,” she said.
Her sister Anaiya Wilson, a 13-year-old who attends Breck Middle School, said she really liked the youth summit’s atmosphere and getting an opportunity to learn from healthcare professionals, a wonderful opportunity that not every young person gets.
“It was really fun to be able to learn about a career field that I want to go into and be a part of,” Anaiya said. I loved seeing other Black females and people of color doing this work,” she said. “It was really encouraging to see others who look like me doing what I want to do.”
The sisters strongly encourage youth to attend at least one youth summit event, which they said can be life changing.
“Come out and do it,” Travaita said. “Because when you participate, you’re going to love it,” she said. “It’s just fun to see all the career paths that you can be a part of.”
“It’s fun education, not just talking and listening,” Anaiya said. “You get hands-on experience, so you have a better idea of what you want to do,” she said. “There were a lot of different fields and areas and people I was able to talk to that helped me to get a better understanding about the medical field.”
Aisha Richardson, Travaita and Anaiya’s mom, strongly agrees with her daughters. She added that the Black Youth Summit is a very gratifying and life-changing opportunity for them.
“To see them experience such an amazing event like this is mind blowing,” Richardson said. “It’s a gift from God to see these children of color come together and doing something they love and are interested in,” she added. “It’s phenomenal and an awesome opportunity we’ll try to do it as much as possible; not just something one time.”
By hosting more of these awesome opportunities, Hennepin Healthcare is continuing to provide a much-needed boost for kids of color which will prepare and inspire them for careers in healthcare. The National Institutes of Health reminds us as our country’s increasingly becoming more multicultural there is a greater need to diversify our healthcare workforce. The most recent data in 2019 from the Minnesota Department of Health further illustrates this need, showing that only 2.4 percent of physicians in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area identify themselves as Black. Despite this stark statistic, Hennepin Healthcare’s ongoing Black youth and other youth summits are steppingstones which will be instrumental in increasing this low percentage, helping to close the racial gaps among the Twin Cities area’s healthcare professionals.
Dr. Koka said she wants these talented youth to understand there are many pathways follow for a rewarding career in healthcare. She said one key is to be led by the lights of their passion to guide them to where they want to go and they’ll be successful. This includes the pursuit of a career in research.
“I love helping the next generation who I hope are going to be better than me I hope in medicine,” Dr. Koka said. “This is a great opportunity for me to look at these youth; in them I see myself,” she said. “I had an idea of what I wanted to do, my idea blossomed and I’ve fulfilled it. And they can live out their dreams too!”
Dr. McKinney said he was really impressed by the motivated and directed young people who he met at the youth summit, including those in middle school who have clearly defined their career goals. He said the youth summit is an event that can provide a vision that will help Black youth fulfill their life-long ambitions including a career in research.
“I think everyone should give research a try while they’re in college or in medical school,” Dr. McKinney said. “I think research really does grab you,” Dr. McKinney added. “It’s a toolkit, a language and a way of being that really does help make sense of the world and give you purpose. If you see it; you can be it!”
The next Talent Garden Series event is the Latine Youth with Stethoscopes Youth Summit, December 2, at the Hennepin Healthcare Clinic & Specialty Center. It’s another of the ongoing forums, designed to provide youth with hands-on learning experiences, inspiring them to follow their passion, leading to pathways in healthcare careers.