Jordan McDonald (left) with mentor Kowshik in the lab pre-pandemic (301434)

Consolidated Edison is partnering with Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) Harlem in support of MedAchieve, the school’s popular afterschool STEM program that mentors underrepresented minority youth who want to become doctors or other health science professionals.

Con Ed is supporting the award-winning program with a $5,000 grant, provided in December.

“We are grateful for this support from Con Edison,” said TouroCOM Harlem Dean of Student Affairs Dr. Nadege Dady. “With a shared vision of expanding opportunities in STEM for students underrepresented in health care, we continue to meet our goals. The COVID-19 pandemic has also broadened our ability to expand the teaching around public health for the participants in this program. We thank Con Ed for their generosity and sponsorship.”

Increasing underrepresented minorities in medicine

TouroCOM’s MedAchieve is a two-year mini medical school with nearly 100 high school students enrolled, mostly from public high schools in Harlem and other low-income neighborhoods in New York City. The students participate in virtual lectures and labs twice a week for the school year.

In keeping with TouroCOM’s mission to increase underrepresented minorities (“URM”) in medicine, MedAchieve exposes the youth to careers in medicine and provides one-on-one mentoring with TouroCOM medical students.

According to a recent study by the program’s student co-directors, 80% of last year’s MedAchieve class perceived barriers to becoming doctors. These included cost, lack of guidance and role models, and a perceived inability to do well in classes. Yet, at the end of the school year, the concern over role models decreased significantly, according to the study.

“These results show the importance and potential of programs like MedAchieve to increase URM applications to medical schools, which is likely to increase diversity in medicine and decrease health care disparities among minorities in the United States,” said Adal Abonamah, OMS-II, a MedAchieve co-director and one of several co-authors of the study.

Significant growth in 2020-2021

MedAchieve is experiencing significant growth this academic year, in spite of the pandemic. The first year of the program, which teaches basic medical science concepts, has 61 students enrolled, an increase of 79%. The second year, where basic concepts are applied to clinical diseases, has 37 students enrolled—an increase of 68%.

Blacks/African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx and Asians account for 30% each of the student body, and white students 10%. Nearly all students—85%—are women.

Students attend weekly two-hour sessions, where the TouroCOM med student mentors deliver lectures they’ve prepared based on what they’ve learned in their own classes, followed by labs and other small group activities.

This year the Touro med student co-directors modified the program for the pandemic. The topics remain mostly the same, including primary care, cardiology, anatomy, osteopathic manipulative medicine, surgery and immunology/infectious disease, among others. But students meet online in large and small groups, and labs are zoomed live or prerecorded. Most subjects have components on health disparities.

“Opened my eyes”

Jordan McDonald, a graduate of Harlem’s A. Philip Randolph Campus High School and the MedAchieve Class of 2017, is now a senior at St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York. He plans to finish in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology. McDonald credits MedAchieve with his desire to study biology, pursue a master’s in clinical laboratory science this fall and eventually go to medical school and become a neurosurgeon, a dream born of witnessing close family members undergo surgeries when he was younger.

“MedAchieve is what really opened my eyes,” says McDonald, explaining his mentor, Kowshik Sen, was quick to answer his countless questions and offer advice on which of many paths to take. “He would say, ‘You could take several paths. No matter what you do you’ll end up where you want as long as you don’t forget where you’re going.’”