This year, Yale School of Medicine launched the Meharry-Yale Summer Research program, a program designed to enhance the research skills of medical students at Meharry Medical College, a historically black medical school in Nashville, Tennessee, and introduce the students to Yale and the New Haven community. The program's ultimate goal is to create a pipeline for Yale to attract students from underrepresented groups as medical residents.
The inaugural program, which was virtual, connected Yale faculty, residents, and students from Neurosurgery and Psychiatry with six students from Meharry Medical College. While students complete a research project between the first and second year at Meharry, the school has no major hospital affiliation, limiting student access to mentors in many specialties.
"Academic medicine does not reflect the diversity of this nation," says Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean and chief diversity officer at Yale School of Medicine. "It's important that science, moving forward, has a very diverse perspective so that science can solve the problems of all people."
A professor at Yale School of Medicine heard about this need through a Meharry student she worked with. Bringing in students from Meharry seemed like a perfect opportunity to create a pipeline program targeting medical students — Yale already runs a range of programs to help young learners from underrepresented, and other disadvantaged groups learn more about science and medicine.
"It is hard to change someone's life with one touch or one opportunity. You have more chances of success if you have multiple touches along the way, as talented youth navigate where they want to go in life," says Dr. Latimore.
This year's program included students from Florida, Tennessee, Ohio, and California. Dr. Latimore and others expect to see the program expand next year to have more Meharry students conducting research in more specialty programs.
The program is already impacting how Mycah Pumphrey sees her future in medicine. The 26-year-old is researching epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder with the Yale Department of Neurosurgery.
She's learned a lot about how to approach a research project and how to write. "These are opportunities I was never afforded before," says Pumphrey, who grew up in Los Angeles. She completed her undergraduate degree at Fisk University in Nashville and a master's at Meharry before joining its medicine program. She has a personal interest in epilepsy, as both her youngest brother and her mother experience seizures.
"I'm getting the skills I need to maybe run a research lab or be a clinical researcher. I was thinking of being a pure clinical practitioner before this," she says.
The six-week program entails working on both a clinical research and basic science project. The faculty mentors supply students with data and direction to complete their research posters.
Assistant professor of neurosurgery and section chief of epilepsy, Eyiyemisi Damisah, MD, who serves as faculty mentor for three students interested in neurosurgery, says the program helps students grasp research fundamentals.
"All the students make research posters. They learn to understand the logical flow of how science works, scientific reasoning and how to present a poster. The skills they learn are more important than the outcomes of any of the individual projects," she says.
Dr. Damisah recalls not understanding how this aspect of academic medicine worked in her early years of medical school — and the steep learning curve.
Another critical component is the program's focus on professional development. "It includes working on their CV and how to interview. How to pretty much on the same level playing field as any other applicant," says Dr. Damisah. Those skills will come in handy when students apply to residency programs, advanced degrees, and jobs.
Aladine Elsamadicy, MD, a PGY-4 neurosurgery resident, is heavily involved in making sure the students are well supported by mentors during the program.
Frequent Zoom meetings with principal investigators, residents, other faculty, and mentors help students understand what's going on across the medical school and familiarize them with the various specialties and research programs — some of which might not be available at Meharry at all, such as neurosurgery.
"When you're in medical school, it's difficult to know what kind of doctor you want to be," says Dr. Damisah. "We want to provide them with a safe way of exploring the different specialties in medicine. You have a lot of people in medicine saying, 'I want to be a surgeon.' But how do you know you want to be a surgeon?"
Notably, the program aims to make students feel welcome at Yale. That's tricky in a virtual program — many students are planning to visit campus next spring to get that on-the-ground experience.
It seems to be working. "Everyone has made it clear they want us to learn and give us a great experience," says Pumphrey.
For her, her impression of what an elite, large school like Yale would be like has proven very different from what she's seen through the summer research program. "You hear the stereotypes, but you don't really know what it's like to go there," she says. "They made it feel as homey as Meharry."
Neurosurgery Meharry-Yale students include: