Living the legacy: making careers in medicine accessible to South Side youth

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In the late 1800s, there were no training options for black women interested in nursing careers, and access to good healthcare was limited for black patients. 1891 marked a pivotal moment in the effort to make healthcare accessible to minorities with the establishment of the first African American owned and run private hospital in the United States, Provident Hospital and Training School —a legacy that continues to this day.

“Talent is universal, access is not,” said Myetie Hamilton, former Chairperson and now Executive Director of the Provident Foundation. “Our determination is to provide access and support so underrepresented youth can experience the field and can determine their path in medicine.”

Founded 1995, the Provident Foundation provides education, opportunities, and access to the medical industry to youth of color on Chicago’s South Side. It also preserves the legacy of its namesake hospital and medical school through archives and exhibitions.

Only six percent of medical school graduates are African American, and only 8.5 percent are Latino. To encourage under-represented students to pursue medical careers, the Provident Foundation has given away fifteen $3,000 scholarships over the last five years to high school seniors and college students. The foundation targets youth in middle school and high school by offering exposure and mentoring, bringing them to medical facilities around the city so they can see what various healthcare professionals, from doctors to dentists, do every day. When students are ready to take the MCAT, the standardized test that determines their admission to medical school, the foundation often foots the bill.

“We provide that bridge so students don’t have to delay their progress,” said Hamilton. And once they’re accepted, physicians at the University of Chicago are there to mentor them as they make their transition to medical school.

Since 2014, the foundation has partnered with the University of Chicago Medicine and the Pritzker School of Medicine to help build the minority-to-medicine pipeline.

“There’s evidence in the literature that African American physicians and those from underrepresented backgrounds are much more likely to go into neighborhoods that are underserved,” said foundation board member James Woodruff, MD, who is Dean of Students at the Pritzker School of Medicine. “Schools around the country are very interested in this issue, but the truth is we don’t have an adequate pipeline of those interested in STEM and who want to pursue medicine.”

Hamilton’s grandfather, who established the foundation in 1995, experienced first-hand the importance of representation in healthcare. Born in the old Provident Hospital, he realized how impactful it was for him to be served by doctors and nurses who looked like him.

Hamilton and Woodruff recently appeared on WVON’s America’s Heroes Group show, hosted by Cliff Kelley. They were joined by Ryan K. Priester, director of community programs for the Office of Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago.

“Provident is a great example of how the University is investing in the future workforce, and how we’re helping to provide educational deliverables and support the youth on Chicago’s South Side,” Priester said.

As a core organization in the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement’s Community Programs Accelerator, Provident Foundation is receiving executive hiring and administrative support, leadership training, strategic planning and financial support for two years.

Since 2014, the Accelerator has helped 120 South Side nonprofits achieve their missions, and that number is likely to increase to 200 by the end of the year.

In 2014 and 2015, Provident Foundation funded the University of Chicago’s chapter of HPREP, a high school enrichment program that encourages youth to pursue careers in medicine. Through this grant, HPREP doubled the number of participants and, for the first time, focused on serving students from high-need areas on Chicago’s South Side.

“When healthcare professionals go back to their communities, they have a passion and desire to help better inform their communities around the importance of healthcare, and the community, which is now more likely to be open and to listen and partake, is transformed,” said Hamilton.

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