by Michael Okoreeh, GDDTP
History provides many lessons; the difficulty sometimes is in simply knowing and understanding these lessons. The reflective process is crucial for any progressive change to occur. This was the message of keynote speaker Dr. Monica Vela’s address to the over 100 attendees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPs) chapter’s second annual Minorities in Pre-Medicine Medical Conference. Dr. Vela eloquently described how our country’s history of racial prejudice obstructed the inclusion of minorities as healthcare providers and now manifests as minorities being vastly underrepresented in today’s physician workforce. Armed with this knowledge, the challenge was issued to the mostly minority undergraduate and few high school students in the room to network and seek out mentors to aid in overcoming barriers to entering the medical profession.
Indeed, mentorship and guidance were the motivating factors for current junior Miciah Wilkerson when he founded UIUC’s MAPs chapter two years ago. A South Side Chicago native, Miciah has a goal of becoming a physician to serve the community that raised him. Through participation in Pritker’s HPREP program and other high school internships, Miciah cultivated a network of medical student and physician mentors to guide his pre-medical journey. However, during his freshman year at UIUC, he noticed many of his classmates lacked access to mentors. Miciah formed a team of like-minded and eager colleagues with a mission statement “to provide underrepresented pre-medical students with knowledge, skills, and experience that are both prerequisite and concomitant to professional participation in health care fields.” Thus, the annual conference goes a long way towards achieving this goal.
This year’s conference built on the success of their inaugural conference with workshops covering familiar topics such as the importance of research in medicine and a physician panel, but also expanded to include a workshop on Medicalizing Blackness: a historical tracing of race and medical thought and practice during the Atlantic slave societies of the 1800s. The conference also welcomed members from the UChicago and University of Missouri MAPs chapters. Symphony Fletcher, a current junior at UChicago, described her time as, “…truly a phenomenal experience. It was inspiring to be surrounded by physicians and peers who mirrored myself and experiences. The activities were very engaging and I walked away feeling more supported in my career path in medicine.”
Pritzker School of Medicine, past and present was well-represented at this year’s conference. Along with Dr. Vela, Pritzker alumnus Abdullah Pratt, MD’16 and Mariam Alaka, MS4 led an emergency medicine simulation workshop aided by current University of Chicago Medicine house staff on suturing, knot tying, CPR/AED use, and Stop The Bleed training. “During the emergency medicine session, Dr. Pratt was so impactful and real. He exposed the truth about working in emergency medicine in Chicago and the session was very empowering,” said Ngozi Amadikwu, a sophomore at UIUC. Tiffany Bell, MS4 and I led a workshop on things to consider when choosing the right medical school.
Pritzker representatives at UIUC
The conference concluded with a medical school fair consisting of representatives from seven health professional schools including the Feinberg School of Medicine Physician Assistant program, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Pritzker, represented by our very own Senior Associate Director of Admissions Emily Sharp-Kellar, JD. Having so many programs participate in the conference is an accomplishment Miciah is most proud of as MAPs president. “In order to change something, it requires a community to do it. I want to a part of the new change in medicine. I want to be part of the increase of minorities in medicine,” said Miciah. In only their second year as a chapter, these accomplishments are truly noteworthy. We as a Pritzker community should be proud to continue support the future aspirations the burgeoning UIUC MAPs community.