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School of Medicine Student Service Projects Aim to Increase Diversity in Health Professions

by Maggie Rotermund on 03/14/2019
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Sixteen members of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine Class of 2019 were honored Wednesday for their four-year commitment to the Ignatian model of serving the needs of others in the community. 

Pictured, from left, are Niveditha Manivannan and Cathy Zhang, the authors of the Doctors for Diversity mentoring guide. Photo by Maggie RotermundPictured, from left, are Niveditha Manivannan and Cathy Zhang, the authors of the Doctors for Diversity mentoring guide. Photo by Maggie Rotermund  

Students  Niveditha Manivannan and Cathy Zhang were part of a group of students that revitalized a dormant Doctors for Diversity group during their first year at SLU. The group works with high school students at the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience Magnet High School to help mentor, tutor and teach them to be prepared for college and medical school.

To make sure the work continues seamlessly, they've spent this past year creating a mentoring guide for future student leads. The guidebook offers suggested curriculum for each year, as well as suggested activities.

"This isn't a strict rulebook; it's a guide," Zhang said. "It can be tailored to work for each group."

The program places two mentors with three or four high school students in the same grade level. 

"We want to help set them up for success in college," Manivannan said. "The mentors are there to advise and help them learn how to navigate research and interviews and even how they use social media."

The guidebook includes a basic contract for mentors and mentees to sign, outlining some very basic standards for the relationship. The contract also includes a blank area for the individuals to articulate what they each want out of the relationship.

 Zhang and Manivannan hope the guide remains a living document which can be updated as needed by the medical school mentors. 

"It is so important in medical education, and in medicine, to have mentors you can look up to and talk with," Zhang said. "My mentors have been so impactful to me - I hope that we can continue that for these students." 

Kristia Abernathy

Kristia Abernathy, a fourth-year medical student, created a project to increase diversity in health care by working with students in the Hazelwood School District. Abernathy attended Hazelwood schools and wanted to help expose others to possible health care professions. Photo by Maggie Rotermund

Kristia Abernathy also wanted to give young people a chance to see what medical professions are like up close, so she targeted her Reach Out! Increasing Diversity in Healthcare program to high school students in the Hazelwood School District.

Her project provided opportunities for students at Hazelwood East and Hazelwood West High Schools to interact with professionals across the health care spectrum, from physicians and nurses, to EMTs, physical therapists and others. 

"I wanted them to know that there are all sorts of careers out there in the medical field," she said. 

As a Hazelwood graduate, Abernathy wanted kids in her neighborhoods to be exposed to careers they might not have considered. She attended SLU summer camps and participated in Adventures in Medicine and Science (AIMS). Those experiences led her to her undergraduate degree at Xavier University before returning to SLU for medical school. 

"It opened up opportunities for me," she said. "And I hope to do the same for others."

Abernathy wants to specialize in family medicine and hopes her residency match keeps her here in St. Louis.

The honorees are part of the Rodney M. Coe Distinction in Community Service Program, which is a longitudinal, faculty-mentored community service program.

The Distinction requires students to complete a minimum of 180 hours of health-related service over four years and to partner with the community on a project in response to community need. 

2019 Coe Distinction Projects


Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.