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This university offers a cure for lack of diversity in medicine

March 10, 2020


WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s graduation season,
and we continue now with our special series about Rethinking College. This year, we focused on innovative programs
helping lower-income students climb the ladder of college and economic stability. Tonight, Hari Sreenivasan reports from New
Orleans about one university that offers a cure for a lack of diversity in medicine. It’s part of our weekly education segment,
Making the Grade. HARI SREENIVASAN: On the campus of Xavier
University, 18-year-old Chris Webb leads a biology review the night before a major test. Webb is helping fellow freshmen who, like
him, are enrolled in a rigorous pre-medical program. CHRIS WEBB, Student: I want them to do as
best as they can. HARI SREENIVASAN: The scene is a familiar
one on the campus of Xavier, a historically black college in the heart of New Orleans. Students quiz each other on material from
tough science classes, the kind of courses that often weed out premedical students. CHRIS WEBB: I don’t want them to do better
than me, but, when they do, that just makes me realize, OK, this competition is really
serious. While we’re having fun with it, it’s also
very real. HARI SREENIVASAN: There are just over 3,000
students at Xavier University, but the school manages to graduate more African-Americans
who go on to become doctors than any other school. The includes elite public universities and
the Ivy League. That number is even more striking, given a
drop in black males applying to medical schools. According to a recent report from the Association
of American Medical Colleges, fewer black males are applying to medical schools now
than in 1978. Reynold Verret is Xavier’s president. REYNOLD VERRET, President, Xavier University:
We do not compete to say who is better. It’s almost like a relay race. The goal is to finish together. So our students are truly embracing and encouraging
each other to achieve. HARI SREENIVASAN: That turns on its head traditional
premed programs. REYNOLD VERRET: Oh, yes, it does. It does. HARI SREENIVASAN: Which is, look to the left,
look to the right. REYNOLD VERRET: One of you is gone. HARI SREENIVASAN: Right? REYNOLD VERRET: Yes. We want to get through, because the competition
is actually after we leave Xavier, not here. The point is to get out there together. HARI SREENIVASAN: Call it competitive collaboration. Head of student advising Quo Vadis Webster: QUO VADIS WEBSTER, Xavier University: At some
schools, you say, look to your left, look to your right, this person may not be here. Here, we say, look to your left, look to your
right, you better help the person next to you, so that we can all make it. HARI SREENIVASAN: The intense student advising
starts early. Incoming freshmen begin crafting medical school
applications even before their first day as an undergraduate. QUO VADIS WEBSTER: Before classes start, we
go over a different aspect of the process of preparing a competitive application to
medical school. HARI SREENIVASAN: And you’re starting before
they actually walk in the door. QUO VADIS WEBSTER: Have to. You need six semesters at least, because that’s
six semesters before you apply. You need every last one of those semesters
and summers to put into making yourself a competitive applicant. HARI SREENIVASAN: The premed program also
relies heavily on tutoring by upperclassmen. Bradley Dunn, says he could not have made
it through his first semester without the free tutoring center. Dunn’s student tutor, Chinyere Jones: CHINYERE JONES, Student Tutor: Basically,
whenever he had a break, he was in the tutoring center. I was like, geez. HARI SREENIVASAN: Dunn believes students helping
students comes in part from shared experiences about race. BRADLEY DUNN, Student: They are able to understand
the plight of African-Americans. It’s more relatable, and it’s more intimate. And we all know the pitfalls that we may face
as people, and, together, we’re a unit. And I’m actually taking pride in that blackness. HARI SREENIVASAN: Race is also an important
factor for Chris Webb, who chose Xavier over full scholarships to other universities, including
Vanderbilt and Tulane. CHRIS WEBB: Seeing people that look like me,
and getting to med school, an through med school, it motivates me more competing with
people that are like me. HARI SREENIVASAN: One of those role models
is Dr. Ryan Jupiter. Jupiter is a resident doctor in the emergency
department of New Orleans University Medical Center. A Xavier alumni, he visits campus regularly
to tell students his own story as the first in his family to go to college. DR. RYAN JUPITER, New Orleans University Medical
Center: I wanted to make sure that I could look like I do and still be able to become
what I want to be. HARI SREENIVASAN: How important is that? Do you think that young black men don’t see
that enough? DR. RYAN JUPITER: Definitely. They — I don’t think they do at all. It’s also a long journey. And when you see other people who put in the
time and the work and see the results of it, then it kind of helps with the long struggle
that it takes. HARI SREENIVASAN: When we met Dr. Jupiter,
he had his monogrammed jacket on, which he took off for our interview. But he explained how he normally wears the
jacket in the hospital because it is one more visual cue to patients that he is a physician,
something he says people don’t always expect from a young black male. Have you been mistaken for something other
than a doctor? DR. RYAN JUPITER: All the time. (LAUGHTER) DR. RYAN JUPITER: It happens. I don’t think it’s intentional, or would like
to think it’s not intentional. But it’s very rare that you can walk into
a room as a patient, and when you see a black, African-American male with dreads in his hair
and, you know, that this is my doctor, until you formally introduce yourself. Or you look at the comments, nurse, or can
you get this for me, or are you here to clean the room, so to speak, those things have all
— have all happened. HARI SREENIVASAN: Students at Xavier hope
to change those stereotypes. CHRIS WEBB: We all recognize that people don’t
truly see us for who we are. We use that to motivate ourselves and to try
to show people, we’re a lot more than what you take us for. BRADLEY DUNN: As African-Americans, we’re
known to be great in sports, but we can be so much greater in other areas. And I just feel like we need to be more represented. HARI SREENIVASAN: There is a bright spot for
minority trends in the field. The number of black women applying to medical
school is on the rise. RACHELS HITCHENS, Student: Black women have
something to prove. HARI SREENIVASAN: Xavier sophomore Rachels
Hitchens has already been accepted into the University of Rochester Medical School. RACHELS HITCHENS: We have been objectified
for so many years. We have to prove that we can be more than
video dancers. We can actually use our brain. And I think that is — that’s the motivating
force that’s deep down within so many black women like myself. HARI SREENIVASAN: And, like Hitchens, the
students we spoke to at this small New Orleans college had big plans. BRADLEY DUNN: I want to be an orthopedic surgeon. CHRIS WEBB: I want to be a pediatric cardiologist. RACHELS HITCHENS: I want to be a rural family
practice physician. HARI SREENIVASAN: Paving the way for another
generation of African-American doctors. In New Orleans, for the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m
Hari Sreenivasan.

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