EXCHANGE: Program produces first crop of medical students
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A program begun 10 years ago to encourage Springfield-area high school students interested in becoming doctors and to help diversify the medical profession has begun to yield tangible results - by producing medical students.
A student from the Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program's inaugural year, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School graduate Matthew Mannion, will start as a second-year student in August on the Springfield campus of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
Two other students from the "P4" program, Southeast High grad Ehitare Emuze and Springfield High grad Alikem Agamah, will begin as first-year medical students next month at the Springfield-based medical school's Carbondale campus.
"It was a really strong experience for me," Mannion said of his time in the P4 program. "It gave me a small taste of what medical school would be like."
The program was founded by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in cooperation with Springfield School District 186 in 2009 and has graduated about 70 participants.
Mannion, Emuze and Agamah are the first P4 students to make it to medical school anywhere in the country, said Dr. Wesley Robinson McNeese, the SIU system's director of diversity initiatives.
He spearheaded the program and previously was head of the medical school's office of diversity, multicultural and minority affairs. He remains the immediate supervisor of the program, which is under the purview of Dr. Wendi Willis El-Amin, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion.
The three former P4 students still have years to go in their journeys.
After four years of medical school, newly graduated doctors face three to seven years of residency program training - the length varies by specialty - before they can practice medicine independently.
The free P4 program accepts 10 to 20 high school freshmen each year. Students are expected to remain in the program throughout high school. P4 graduates each receive $1,000 in scholarship money for college.
The program began by accepting only students from Springfield high schools but soon expanded to students at other schools in Sangamon County, including Rochester and Chatham, McNeese said. P4 has served students from high schools as far away as Pana and Pekin.
P4 participants have included some students from low-income families, but the majority are from middle-class and upper-income families, McNeese said.
Most students at SIU School of Medicine, like at other U.S. medical schools, come from upper-middle class or wealthy families, he said.
One goal of the P4 program is to help medical schools become more diverse - both ethnically and economically, McNeese said.
P4 is exposing more high school students from groups under-represented in medical schools - including blacks and Latinos - to medical students and the type of academics and experiences required for medical school, he said.
It's difficult and can take a long time to alter demographics in the medical profession, he said.
For example, McNeese said SIU currently ranks in the top 3 percent to 4 percent of medical schools nationwide in the percentage of black students who graduate. But the share of doctors who are African-American nationwide - 4 percent - hasn't changed for decades, he said.
The after-school P4 program offers two-weeklong "modules" in the fall and spring, as well as activities in the summer.
There are other physician "pipeline" programs for high school students around the country, but SIU's may be the only one offering experiences throughout the year, McNeese said.
Mannion, 24, who was born and raised in Springfield, said the P4 program helped to solidify his interest in medicine as a career "at a much younger age."
He is the son of Michael Mannion, a lawyer, and Michele Mannion, a former social worker and preschool teacher now working as a preschool teacher's aide. His grandfather was a Springfield Clinic cardiologist, and he has an aunt who is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist and an uncle who is a pediatric emergency-medicine doctor.
Mannion earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Ohio's Miami University and then worked as a clinical research coordinator at the University of Cincinnati before becoming a medical student. His sister, Aileen Mannion, a sophomore at Springfield High, is in the P4 program.
Ehitare Emuze, 24, said she appreciated the program because it "just reinforced what I wanted to do."
She was born in Nigeria and arrived in Springfield with her family when she was in fifth grade after living in Virginia and Georgia. Her father, Lucky, who has an associate's degree, is a respiratory therapist, while her mother, Bukola, a former licensed practical nurse, works as a travel agent.
Seeing family members go through illnesses sparked her interest in medicine, Ehitare Emuze said.
She said she worked as a room-service associate at Memorial Medical Center and job-shadowed doctors and nurses at Carle Foundation Hospital while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned a bachelor's in molecular and cellular biology.
Ehitare Emuze received a master's in biological sciences at SIU-Carbondale, where she took part in SIU's Medical/Dental Preparatory Program, or MEDPREP.
Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/32w5TKH
Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com