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Three students from Upstate selected among 10 in state to receive noted diversity scholarship

Three students from Upstate selected among 10 in state to receive noted diversity scholarship

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- Three students from Upstate Medical University--Melissa Espert, Nefertiti Tyehemba and Zacharia Mohamed--are among ten students statewide to win Diversity in Medicine scholarships by the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY).

The scholarship program is funded by the State Health Department as means of helping to address the gap in physician diversity. Some reports show that African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos comprise only 12 percent of the physician workforce in New York (2011-2015), compared to approximately 31 percent of New York’s population.

“I want to congratulate our students on this important recognition,” said College of Medicine Dean Julio Licinio, MD, PhD. “Increasing student access to medical education through programs like this is most significant in that it helps create greater diversity in the medical profession, which in turn helps create greater awareness and understanding of the various cultures that makes up our healing community and the patients we serve.”

Espert, a third-year medical student, is grateful for the recognition and hopes one day to inspire others.

“I want to become a physician to be an activist for my community,” she said. “I want to be a surgeon of color and be a multilingual physician speaking Spanish and French so that I can serve the Black/Latino and immigrant/refugee populations. Lastly, I want to mentor kids from my neighborhood of Brooklyn and other inner-city boroughs to inspire and motivate them to not only go into primary care, but to not be afraid to specialize, if that is their desire to do so. There needs to be an increase of minorities going into all fields of medicine, who are dedicated to working back in their community, for their community and with their community.”

Scholarship recipient Tyehemba, a second-year medical student, draws her inspiration for a medical career from her upbringing in Harlem, N.Y.

“Back home, I saw, and continue to see the need for highly trained, culturally sensitive and compassionate physicians who employ advocacy, activism and community service into their practice,” she said. “I want to be a physician to work in under-served communities that have limited access, and greater barriers and challenges to receiving quality and socially conscientious healthcare. For me, becoming a physician is synonymous to becoming a teacher, leader, mentor, provider, advocate and supporter to my future patients. I would like to be an example to youth from under-represented backgrounds interested in pursuing medicine, and to mentor students that lack positive role models.”

Somalia-born Zacharia Mohamed, a first-year medical student, became interested in medicine at an early age by witnessing the work of doctors and nurses in the refugee camp clinics in Kenya, where he lived as a child.

“I had a huge appreciation for those who were caring for others, especially in challenging conditions,” Mohamed said.

Later, after coming to the United States and learning English, Mohamed often would be the interpreter for other immigrants from African nations. “I would often accompany families members and neighbors to the Emergency Department and doctor’s appointments to serve as the translator,” he said. “This experience kind of open doors for me as I got to see what family doctors and ED doctors do and spurred my interest in medicine.”

Mohamed said with his medical degree he wants to serve the refugee committee here in Syracuse, and in the future, join up with organizations like Doctors without Borders, providing medical care in places coping with natural and man-made disasters.

With a $500,000 investment from the state, the medical school scholarships--pegged to the cost of SUNY medical school tuition--will help students from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine by eliminating the financial barrier to medical school enrollment.

“We are grateful to the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus Members, and particularly Assembly Members Blake, People-Stokes, and Perry, Chair of Caucus, who understand that having more doctors who represent the great diversity of New York state will further enable us to improve health outcomes,” said AMSNY President Jo Wiederhorn. “Thanks to them, we will improve opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds and continue to diversify our physician workforce.”

The students were selected from among graduates of AMSNY post-baccalaureate programs, which provide students from economically or educationally underserved areas with provisional acceptance at a New York state medical school depending on their completion of one of three programs.

The Diversity in Medicine Program, which is supported by the New York State Department of Health, has enabled 450 students from economically or educationally underserved areas to become doctors.

The Diversity in Medicine scholarship is available to New York medical school students from economically and educationally underserved areas. For many students, paying for a medical education is a daunting challenge-- of the graduating class of 2015, 81 percent of medical students reported leaving medical school with student loan debt. Across the country, the median level of debt for the class of 2015 was $183,000, not including accrued interest.

Caption: From left, Zacharia Mohamed (inset) Nefertiti Tyehemba and Melissa Espert are among 10 medical students statewide to win Diversity in Medicine scholarships from the Associated Medical Schools of New York. The scholarships are supported by the state as a way to address the gap in physician diversity.