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Preparing Young Students of Color to Seize Opportunities in Health Care

July 19, 2021
by Robert Forman

Today, the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI) launched a virtual four-week summer internship program to expose students from age 15 to 20 to careers in clinical and translational medical research. The program is for high school students as well as college undergraduates.

There are 36 interns enrolled in the program, chosen from among 200 students who completed applications and received faculty recommendations. The students are from 14 different states, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Significantly, 30-40% are minority, approximately 50% are female; and 20% are from rural areas where similar opportunities are limited. This is the first internship opportunity for many of these students, and there is no charge to participate.

The internship is an opportunity for these young people to be exposed to careers in fields that were never meaningfully suggested to them before. It also is part of a long-term health care priority: to create a health system across the country where patients of color are more frequently treated by health professionals who look like them. There is evidence that greater access to minority caregivers creates a measurable health benefit for patients of color. For instance, as reported in 2020 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, infant mortality was found to fall among patients of color when their health providers were people of color.

“In order to have more people who look like us, we needed to start earlier in the educational process to invite minorities to the table – to expose them to all the different fields within health care,” says Rev. Dr. Leroy Odinga Perry, '74 MDiv, pastor of St. Stephens AME Zion Church in Branford, Connecticut, and a Cultural Ambassador to Clinical Research at Yale School of Medicine. “By doing so I think that we can bring better health outcomes for everybody.”

YCCI’s Cultural Ambassadors program is a more than decade-long partnership among Yale, the predominantly Black AME Zion Church, and other community leaders. These trusted figures from minority communities are equal partners in the development and implementation of strategies to ensure access and inclusion of historically underrepresented participants in clinical research. Through their efforts, minority participation in Yale clinical trials has risen from just 3% in 2010 to approximately 31% now.

“It has been a steady effort by Yale and YCCI to make communities of color central to our clinical research. Making the opportunities to participate in clinical research available to everyone and working with our communities to help guide and prioritize our research efforts is not only critical in delivering optimal health care to all but is also very important to the science of clinical and translational research,” says Brian R. Smith, MD, co-director of YCCI, deputy dean for clinical and translational research, and professor of laboratory medicine, biomedical engineering, medicine (hematology), and pediatrics. “A health care workforce that reflects the full population is also a priority. Exposing young people to career opportunities in clinical and translational research as early as possible is important work that we are proud to do.”

The summer internship, in fact, is the first step in a larger, even more ambitious program, through which students, families, and community leaders will be engaged in an ongoing sustained relationship to both encourage and provide a pathway into careers in science, medicine, and clinical/translational research. Resources will include résumé and college application support, and exposure programs where students will meet with leaders at Yale and partnering organizations.

Interns will get their first opportunities to meet some of those leaders this summer, through virtual lunches with an expert from the Food and Drug Administration; top clinicians and scientists from Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Health System; and a professor of medicine from Morehouse College, a historically Black college.

The summer internship also includes course work, lectures, journal club, and a group project chosen from among these topics:

  • How to explain research to children and adolescents
  • Informed consent and adolescent assent considerations
  • “Help us Discover” clinical trials education and awareness campaign for kids, adolescents, and young adults
  • Exploring ways to promote education and awareness of Yale’s pediatric clinical research through the Epic MyChart patient portal.

YCCI’s record of consistent success, through continuing support by the national Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program, resulted in 2018 in a Memorandum of Understanding with the FDA Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) that formalizes collaboration between Yale and the FDA and builds upon a shared interest in promoting scientific progress through exchange of scientific capital in public health, epidemiology, and research.

Submitted by Robert Forman on July 19, 2021