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Stepping up minority recruiting

Medical schools nationwide struggle to recruit minority physicians, but Temple has met that challenge head on and has the record to prove its success.

Since 1971, nearly 700 underrepresented African American and Latino physicians have completed their medical training at the School of Medicine. And this summer, the school will strengthen its efforts to educate minorities thanks to a catchy acronym and the perseverance of Raul DeLa Cadena.

Backed by a five-year, $500,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant, the associate professor of physiology and thrombosis research is launching the Short Term Education Program for Undergraduate and Predoctoral students (STEP UP) to increase the number of minorities involved in health-related research.

"We believe producing a physician scientist who is engaged in doing research in areas related to minority health will help eliminate health disparities," said DeLa Cadena.

STEP UP begins this summer as a three-month research-based training program for 12 students from ethnic groups that the NIH has shown to be underrepresented in the health professions. The cohort will include eight undergraduates who have finished at least one year of college and are interested in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or other health careers; and four medical students who have successfully completed their first year of medical education. Participants will pair with a mentor and get training and hands-on experience in biomedical research topics such as safety in the research laboratory, research misconduct, the use of experimental animal models and health disparities.

Promoting diversity is familiar ground for DeLa Cadena. As assistant dean of the school's recruitment, admissions and retention program, he and his staff provide support and opportunities for prospective applicants, students and alumni from groups that are underrepresented in medicine.

"Despite the fact that African Americans make up at least 12 percent of this country's population, they and other emerging majorities are clearly underrepresented in medicine and the health professions," said DeLa Cadena. "Their representation as scientists is even more scant."

Between 2001 and 2005, the School of Medicine ran a similar program the Short-Term Summer Research Program which trained 70 underrepresented students in the health professions. But in 2005 the NIH changed the initiative to promote diversity in research activities, and it's taken DeLa Cadenda three years of fine-tuning to satisfy the NIH's new funding requirements.

"It was so frustrating not to have been able to offer something over the past three years," said DeLa Cadena, "especially when we've witnessed the success we've had with students who took the previous short-term summer program."

Ann Igbre was one of the 70 Temple students who participated in the summer program in 2004. She calls the experience "wonderful."

"The program introduced me to research and really helped me understand the importance of research in medicine," said Igbre. "That summer, I was able to put together a simple research question, test it and see the results. Plus, having that experience on my resume was great when applying for residency."

Now in the ophthalmology residency program at Temple, Igbre is studying racial differences in diabetic retinopathy. She credits the summer program for making her a competitive applicant and is glad to hear that more minority students like her will get opportunities through STEP UP.

The STEP UP grant comes with few strings. The research must be within the scope of areas of interest to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This requirement places the Cardiovascular Center, the Lung Center and the Thrombosis Research Center in an ideal position to train a future cohort of health professional scientists.

"I strongly believe physician scientists as well as other health professional scientists from minority backgrounds will go on to study research diseases that afflict their ethnic group in a disproportionate fashion, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes," said DeLa Cadena. "And it's exciting to be a part of that effort."


Contact: Megan Chiplock
Temple University

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