Med School Plans Special Day of Learning to Honor Dr. Martin Luther King

January 10, 2001

In commemoration of Martin Luther King's legacy and teachings, first- and second-year students at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry will participate on Monday, January 15 in a "Day of Multicultural Learning" with a diverse group of community leaders, an experience that School leaders hope will help ultimately to shape culturally savvy physicians.

"In the face of growing evidence that there are real differences in the ways that various cultures approach and receive health care, we saw this as an opportunity to engage the community with our students in a way that truly pays homage to Dr. King's teachings," said senior associate dean Lindsey Henson, M.D., Ph.D. "We wanted to create a local tradition that honors the civil rights leader's commitment to diversity within the context of our medical center." A committee of students, faculty and community members has spent nearly a year planning the event.

Visiting professor Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the Morehouse Cardiovascular Research Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, will set the tone with an 8:00 a.m. keynote address featuring clips from King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Gibbons is widely respected as a distinguished cardiologist and scientist who left a tenure-track position at Harvard Medical School to direct the National Institute of Health- and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute-sponsored research institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Gibbons, who grew up in the public housing projects of Philadelphia, earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University before graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School.

"Dr. Gibbons personifies the King legacy both in terms of his remarkable achievement, but also in the deep sense of obligation he feels to mentor and develop the next generation of scientists," said Thomas Pearson, M.D., chair of Community and Preventive Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Pearson served on the organizing committee and helped to arrange for Gibbons' visit.

Applying Diversity to Medical Practice

Following Gibbons' talk, students will break into small group sessions led by a Medical School faculty member and a community "tutor" - leaders of social service agencies, the clergy, or other community and health care organizations.* Groups will be given a hypothetical patient case involving an elderly, female African-American patient suffering from hypertension. Students will then be challenged to seek and unravel a host of medical, psycho-social and cultural clues that underlies the patient's condition, before recommending a course of treatment that respects both the patient's culture and physical needs. Aside from obvious medical parameters, the discussion will also include issues such as cultural competence and unequal access to care, as well as how the incidence of and suffering from medical conditions such as hypertension, varies between racial and ethnic groups. Tutors will observe the interaction and offer suggestions and insights.

The hypertension case was chosen as a way to highlight, in very real terms, the gulf between those with diverse cultural backgrounds and physicians who may not be tuned in to that diversity. African-American patients are more likely to develop hypertension and experience different effects than do their Caucasian counterparts.

"A physician who understands the disease may not necessarily understand the patient's culture and perception of his or her health. As a result, many doctors who feel they are adhering to broadly accepted practices - such as recommending a standard diet to reduce weight and lower blood pressure - may in fact, be prescribing foods that are unfamiliar in some cultures. With a little conversation, the doctor can help make perfectly adequate substitutes that fit a patient's culture," said Harold Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and the member of the organizing committee who created the patient scenario.

At the end of the session, students within each group will form questions to pose during a panel discussion that includes community physicians, residents, medical students, and Gibbons at an afternoon Integration Conference.** The Conference follows a luncheon featuring culturally diverse foods and entertainment by the Spiritus Christi choir.

In addition to the panel participants, at least 12 community leaders have been recruited as tutors by Nancy Chin, Ph.D., assistant professor of Community and Preventive Medicine and Nathaniel Holmes, Ph.D., director of Ethnic and Multicultural Affairs at the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

According to Holmes, the tutors' daily experiences in working with diverse populations make them natural mentors for the students. Not only can the students benefit from the tutors' expertise, but the Medical School hopes that the Day of Multicultural Learning will provide community leaders with a glimpse into the School's renewed commitment to diversity and mentorship.

An Ongoing Effort

The commitment to teach culturally and ethnically competent doctors won't end at 3:30 p.m. on January 15, said Dean Edward Hundert. In fact, diversity is one of six major themes that underpin the Medical School's new Double-Helix curriculum. That means that throughout all four years of medical school, faculty are challenged to teach students about human diversity at its biological and genetic level, while building an appreciation for the significance of cultural, ethnic, age, socio-economic and psychological differences.

"This Medical School is serious about improving health care of all individuals through better technology and better relationships with patients," Hundert said.

* Community Co-Tutors for the Martin Luther King Day of Multicultural Learning include:

  • Dr. William Bayer, Family Practitioner · Stanley Bird, Catholic Family Center
  • Beverly Burrel-Moore, Roth Middle School Principal
  • Sylvia Carter, St. Mary's Health Reach
  • Reverend James L. Cherry, Aenon Baptist Church
  • Cynthia English-Britt
  • Reverend Lawrence Hargrave, Colgate Rochester Divinity School
  • Saul Jeng, Hillside Behavioral Health Systems
  • Ann Marie John, Monroe Community College
  • Mildred Jordan Reynolds, Retired
  • Lemuel Rogers, M.D., Retired Community Physician
  • Elizabeth Romero, M.D., Clinton Family Health Center
  • Annette Rouse, Urban League of Rochester
  • Todd Williams, Rochester Fatherhood Res. Initiative, Inc.

** Integration Conference panelists include:

  • Joanne Aagustin (4th year medical student/graduate student)
  • Dr. Brenda Barrett Davis - UHS & LifeSpan physician, URSMD grad
  • Dr. Ruby Belton (local radiologist, URSMD alumna and parent of 1st year student)
  • Dr. Dahari Brooks - 4th year Surgery resident
  • Beverly Burrel-Moore, principal of Roth Middle School, Rush-Henrietta CSD
  • Dr. Gary Gibbons (keynote speaker)
  • Dr. Edith Grannum, Director of the Thurston Family Medicine Center
  • Dr. Roberto Vargas - 4th year Pathology resident

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