REACH Initiative to expand equity, diversity at Stanford School of Medicine

The Stanford School of Medicine launched the REACH Initiative to boost representation in medicine and reduce health inequities among minority populations.

- By Emily Moskal

Medical students from historically Black colleges and universities attend a social event in 2022. The visiting scholar program is part of Stanford Medicine's REACH Initiative. 
Clinton Louie

Editor's note: You can read the 2023 REACH impact report here.

As a teenager, Timothy Johnson was motivated to be a force for good, but he didn’t know how — until he started a high school chemistry course.

“I fell in love with the experiments, watching things change colors or blow up; I like the hands-on part of it,” Johnson said. “That, coupled with a desire to help others and do some good in the world, is what pointed me toward medicine.”

After graduating from the historically Black Hampton University in Virginia with a degree in biochemistry, Johnson wanted to gain more research experience before applying to medical school.

Encouraged by his mentors at Hampton, Johnson applied to the Postbaccalaureate Experience in Research program at the Stanford School of Medicine last fall.  

The program, a facet of Stanford Medicine’s Racial Equity to Advance a Community of Health (REACH) Initiative, offers one to two years of research experience and course training to bolster the medical or graduate school applications of people from underserved communities.

“You have the opportunity to shadow people in a lab and be 5 feet away from what you want to become one day — that’s what matters to me,” Johnson said.

The training supports the overarching mission of REACH: to integrate diversity, inclusion and health equity into the heart of medical education at Stanford Medicine and help train equity- and inclusion-minded scientists and doctors.

“By establishing REACH, the Stanford School of Medicine reaffirms and furthers our commitment to addressing health inequities,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. “This initiative has already had a significant impact, bringing in a more diverse class of ​students who are becoming well-versed in the root causes of social and health disparities and how to confront them.”

Alongside the postbaccalaureate program, REACH, founded by leaders of Stanford Medicine’s Commission on Justice and Equity and made possible by the Emerson Collective, comprises five other programs, some of which will launch over the coming year. The goal is to cultivate support and academic experience for underrepresented minorities who are pursuing medicine with a focus on health equity.

Expanding experience

Last summer, the postbaccalaureate program, led by faculty director Anthony Ricci, PhD, kicked off with 21 recent graduates of diverse backgrounds. In addition to offering mentorship by current graduate students, the program provides help with medical school applications, MCAT tutoring and courses on racial equity in medicine.

Timothy Johnson

Johnson is working as a clinical research coordinator for the Byers Eye Institute under Jeffrey Goldberg, MD, PhD, the Blumenkranz Smead Professor and a professor of ophthalmology, on a study looking at optic nerve regeneration. He said he can’t decide on his favorite aspect of the program: the tight-knit scholar cohort or the research mentorship.

“The mentors pull you up onto the mountaintop to survey the landscape of career options, and that’s been one of the biggest impacts on my career so far,” Johnson said. “I wanted to go somewhere I felt wanted and where I felt I could be my authentic self. And I feel like I’m getting that with REACH.”

Swapping experiences

Operating in parallel with the postbaccalaureate program is the HBCU Visiting Student and Faculty Exchange Program, founded in 2017 by professor of medicine Abraham Verghese, MD. The program, now a part of REACH, pairs medical students and faculty from historically Black colleges and universities with Stanford Medicine collaborators.

Tylanna Baker, a visiting student from Morehouse School of Medicine, was among last summer’s cohort of REACH-HBCU scholars. In 2014, Baker’s aunt, after avoiding medical care for years, died of complications from an enlarged heart. It moved Baker to enroll at the historically Black medical school, where she developed an interest in medical culture and the way doctors in different places approach medicine.

Baker found out about REACH through a Morehouse email listserv. She applied in January of 2022 and was accepted February 3, a date she said she’ll always remember.

Under the supervision of Baraka Floyd, MD, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, Baker conducted a review of practices to limit racial injustice, then used that information to provide recommendations to workers in pediatrics departments.

“You get out of your comfort zone, get out of what you’ve been used to during your first year of medical school,” Baker said about REACH. “I like seeing different kinds of doctors, seeing different kinds of professions, being in a different environment and atmosphere.”

Baker hopes to work in primary care to prevent simple health issues that, without treatment, can mean death.

Changing the landscape

Through REACH, Terrance Mayes, associate dean of equity and strategic initiatives and a leader of the REACH program, hopes to create a positive feedback loop between patients and medical professionals. By increasing access to health care for people of diverse backgrounds, health inequities will narrow, Mayes said.

Recently, the REACH Bioscience PhD Fellowship launched with a goal to increase access to academic career paths. While still in early stages, the program pays for the training of minority and first-generation students to pursue doctorate degrees. Over the next year, REACH will launch three additional programs, rounding out its mission to train a new generation of leaders who prioritize health equity, social justice and racial equity:

  • The MD-MS Program in Health Equity Research will pay for students to pursue a master’s degree with a focus on health equity, alongside their medical degree.
  • To address social disparities at various community levels, the Scholarly Concentration in Health Equity and Social Justice Research will engage medical students in class and community project work.
  • The Clinical Clerkship in Community Health of the Underserved will provide outpatient care for communities that traditionally lack access to health care.
     

“REACH is transforming the way we deliver education and helping us train future leaders who will orient their work and their purpose around social justice and health equity,” Mayes said.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

2023 ISSUE 3

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