Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine Receives STEM Award

Harlem Medical School Recognized for After-School Program “MedAchieve”, Which Makes a Difference for Underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

August 19, 2020
MedAchieve Class of 2019

The honor is the third such award TouroCOM has received from the national publication, the oldest and largest reporting on inclusion in higher education. It also marks the second year in a row TouroCOM has received the STEM award, which celebrates colleges and universities that inspire and encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“We are proud of the creativity and dedication that our medical school student teachers pour into the MedAchieve Mini Med School program,” said Nadege Dady, Ed.D., dean of student affairs at TouroCOM Harlem. “For the high school students who participate, it is a gift to engage in such health related and scientific activities so early. They receive key exposure to medical topics and lab practice. We are grateful to all the guidance counselors and teachers who recommend their students to participate every year.”

“An Equal Playing Field Before College”

Students are recruited mainly from public high schools in Harlem that do not already have STEM programs. The exposure received is considered especially important for underrepresented students from underserved communities, who may have limited opportunities to explore whether they are suited for medicine or to prepare for a health career.

“One of our TouroCOM instructors, a pediatric specialist, came here from Ghana as a child. We are providing direct access to role models who come from similar backgrounds. They will tell their stories and ideally one piece of that story will relate to the students,” said Adal Abonamah, a second-year medical student and MedAchieve co-director. “We want to give them an equal playing field before they get to college.” 

The curriculum and teaching methods have been tweaked for the novel coronavirus. Lectures and labs are now virtual. Last semester, the students simulated “pandemic day”, diagnosing and treating infectious diseases through interactive simulations with their TouroCOM student mentors, who role-played various symptoms. They applied their medical knowledge to COVID-19, Lyme’s disease, malaria and traveler’s diarrhea.   

“The students learned how easily viruses and other microbes can spread, and how quickly jumping to a diagnosis can cause harm,” said Dean Dady. “They began to use critical thinking skills to determine the diagnoses, and saw how their diversity can affect science in a way that improves their communities.”

Health Disparities and Social Justice to Get More Emphasis

Come September all instruction will be virtual, but still delivered mostly by the TouroCOM student mentors, with one-on-one time for their mentees built into the schedule. Anatomy will be taught by a TouroCOM professor who will live-stream dissections from the lab before the class breaks out into small teams to work. The students will also learn how the heart is positioned and how to use stethoscopes by listening to their own hearts. Health disparities and other social justice issues will get increased emphasis, and students will learn about the wide range of medical specialties from professionals who are underrepresented minorities in the field.

In a recent exit survey by the school, a majority of the MedAchieve students acknowledged barriers to becoming physicians, but still reported that the program increased their interest in and preparation for pursuing a career in the field.    

MedAchieve graduate Kayla Simpson is one such student. Simpson attended University Heights High School in the Bronx and is now a sophomore majoring in chemistry at Spelman College, an HBCU in Atlanta. She plans to apply to both medical and graduate schools. Her current interests are in neonatology, OB/GYN and research.

“MedAchieve definitely helped me my first year of college. I definitely recommend the program, even if you’re not on the medical track,” said Simpson, who found her TouroCOM student mentor to be a highlight. “If you and your mentor click, they’re with you for life,” she said, adding when it’s time to apply to medical schools, TouroCOM will be on her list, “I love Touro!”