It was field trip day for a group of high school science teachers from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. But this time, the passionate group of educators were embarking on their own journey to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to learn about supporting students who are interested in medical careers.
The Health Professions Workshop, hosted by the Miller School’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (ODICE), focused on the critical role teachers play in improving the pathway of physicians from public schools to a medical degree. The teachers also learned about the importance of a diverse physician workforce.
“Teachers stand at the door, able to cultivate students’ interest in STEM and be a resource and guiding light in this process,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. “They help cultivate interest and provide access for these students to pursue medicine.”
Currently, Miami-Dade County Public Schools have more than 300,000 students, and Latino and Black students make up 94% of the student body. By contrast, Latino and Black doctors represent only 23% of Florida physicians, compared with their white counterparts, who make up 55%.
“Our goal is to develop the next generation of future physicians who are representative of our diverse community,” said Nanette Vega, Ed.D., assistant professor of medical education and assistant dean for ODICE. “We have a rich legacy of 40 years running pathway programs as proof of our commitment to equitable education.”
Adrian Reynolds, Ph.D., assistant professor of professional practice and director of academic enrichment in the Department of Medical Education, led the first discussion about the science of learning. Dr. Reynolds shared various strategies, like the importance of setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely) goals and how teachers can monitor students’ aspirations.
Marquis Gatewood, Ed.D., director of programs at ODICE, described how DEI enhances knowledge in the classroom, while Marie-Denise Gervais, M.D., assistant dean for admissions and diversity, shared her experience as a Black woman in medicine and how she encourages students to become physicians.
“I wish this was a required session for all educators to experience. It's vital for us to be equipped with proper learning strategies,” said Luis Espinosa, an anatomy and physiology teacher at Westland Hialeah Senior High School. “Just like medicine is constantly changing, so is the field of education. Keeping updated with these strategies makes us better teachers.”
A favorite portion of the event was the student panel, featuring four Miller School students who discussed how their own teachers guided them and how they navigated their undergraduate and medical school careers.
“This panel showed the power teachers can have,” said Janet Jackson, a nurse educator from Robert Morgan Educational Center. “It starts with educators planting that seed of belief and drive in their students, which allows them to do what may seem impossible.”
The workshop concluded with five laboratory tours guided by Vance Lemmon, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery and the Walter G. Ross Distinguished Chair in Developmental Neuroscience, and researchers from The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The group saw how headset technology is aiding paralyzed patients, how a single-cell RNA sequencing aids in wound healing, how various tools simulate traumatic brain injuries, and more.
“When teachers leave this workshop, they will have acquired new knowledge and interactions from experts in their respective disciplines,” said Touri White, M.P.S., program manager at ODICE. “Participants bring the excitement and enthusiasm back to their students and spark a desire in them to continue to pursue a career in the health science field.”