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Department of Medicine professor receives diversity promotion grant

September 19, 2011

Studying medicine in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, graduate student Tomoyasu Higashimoto hasn’t recognized much diversity among his classmates, but that might change in the future thanks to a $1.1 million federal grant an MSU professor has received from the National Institutes of Health.

In an effort to promote a greater representation of students from racial, ethnic and socioeconomic minorities in MSU’s College of Human Medicine, Elahe Crockett, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine, is creating a program for underrepresented students, known as the Research Program to Increase Diversity in Health Researchers.

The university was awarded the grant in July to create the program, which aims to sponsor minority students and promote their involvement with research opportunities on campus as a way to interest them in pursuing a degree in the medical field. The research will center on cardiovascular studies.

The program is using the fall semester as a recruitment period to fill 16 MSU student spots before the program officially begins this spring.

Four of the students will be undergraduates, while the other 12 will consist of health professional students from veterinary, nursing, public health and other medical fields.

Next semester, the selected students will participate in a medical research training course, in which part of their tuition will be covered by the grant. Then, during the summer, the students will engage in hands-on research in laboratories while receiving stipends in addition to money for food and housing, Crockett said. There also is potential for off-campus research, she said.

As a minority herself, Crockett, who is Persian, said she dealt with a number of difficulties as a medical student because of her background, including a lack of familiarity with the resources available to her.

“Language was always a barrier, so I had to work twice as hard,” she said. “I did it, but I know it’s not very easy.”

Francesca Dwamena, a professor in the Department of Medicine, is teaming up with Crockett as the program’s co-investigator and will serve as a mentor to the students in addition to organizing workshops and lectures.

Although Dwamena said the department of medicine has done a lot to boost minority involvement, there’s still work to be done.

“Even with this program, I still think there’s underrepresentation,” she said.

“Any program that exposes these students to the research really enhances and bridges the opportunity gap.”

Higashimoto said he believes creating additional opportunities for students to interact with people from various backgrounds will prepare them for work after college.

“I think it will be good preparation for medical students to be exposed to people of different cultures early on, at least during training,” he said.


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