Last summer, Moffitt Cancer Center’s Faculty Diversity in Oncology Program (FDOP) partnered with the Brain Expansions Scholastic Training (B.E.S.T.) program to provide life-changing mentorship opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds who are planning to pursue careers in medicine.
Dubbed the Premier Medical Pathway, this transformational program paired seven college and gap-year students with physician and research leaders from Moffitt’s FDOP. Mentors and student mentees were matched based on shared areas of interest that range from internal medicine and informational technology to physical therapy. While a mentorship program may seem simple, the goal and vision for this partnership is expansive.
"The number of Black/African American male medical students is on the decline and hasn’t increased since the 1970s," said Odion Binitie, MD, who leads FDOP and is an orthopedic oncologist in Moffitt’s Sarcoma Department. "So, there is a gaping hole in the number of Black/African American men going into medicine. The number of Black/African American women also is low, as is the case with other underrepresented groups. These sorts of immersion programs can increase the exposure and address the lack of underrepresented people in health care."
"The likelihood of patients coming to Moffitt, enrolling in clinical trials, going to cancer screenings for prevention – those are all diminished if the people who work at the cancer center don’t look like the community we serve."- Odion Binitie, MD
In addition to enabling future leaders to learn from top experts in their fields, the program gave students the chance to explore an area of medicine before committing their time, finances and energy to it. And by experiencing firsthand what it’s like to practice in a clinical setting, many of the students felt even more motivated to continue on the path to working in health care.
"We know that patients do better when their physicians look like them, and so being able to encourage students early on to pursue careers in health care is critical. For the mentees, hopefully, this is inspiration for them to continue in their pursuits…and will also encourage their siblings, cousins, other family members to look into careers in health care," Binitie said.
All of the student mentees participate in the B.E.S.T program, which was founded by physician and community leader Dexter Frederick, MD, in 2004 to provide hands-on experiences for students so that they may better understand the world of health care. The program aims to equip young people interested in becoming medical professionals to positively impact health inequalities around the world. “It’s life-changing for any student who gets into our program,” Frederick said.
This focus perfectly aligns with the goals of Moffitt’s FDOP, as the Moffitt affinity group was created for a similar purpose. Formed more than three years ago, the FDOP and its members help to recruit, retain, mentor and sponsor Black/African American faculty members, trainees and students.
Binitie is hopeful for the future of the Premier Medical Pathway and its graduates. He expects mentors and mentees to stay in touch, plans to make new matches in the coming year, and is seeking to expand the program outside of the FDOP to include faculty across Moffitt. He sees these efforts as imperative to continuing to elevate care for all.
"The likelihood of patients coming to Moffitt, enrolling in clinical trials, going to cancer screenings for prevention – those are all diminished if the people who work at the cancer center don’t look like the community we serve," he said.