Published in Louisville Medicine Magazine December Issue by Greater Louisville Medical Society. Article written by Giana Darville, Ruth Rodriguez, and Tino Mkorombindo
Becoming a health care professional is a dream for many, but students and professionals from historically underrepresented groups face unique challenges on their journeys to serve others through medicine. During my first year as an MD/MBA student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, I was taken aback by the lack of racial diversity among my incoming class. My class reported 6% of entrants as underrepresented, while that year’s national average was 21.6%. I constantly felt as though I did not fit the mold, that I did not belong in this space, so it was difficult to be my authentic self. This lack of representation and community also created a seemingly insurmountable barrier to opportunity.
I realized that the lack of diversity in health care is an issue generated by systemic inequalities, rather than by individual shortcomings. This realization planted a seed in my mind that took root in 2017, developing into Greater Influence — a non-profit organization that seeks to address the lack of representation in health care. Initially started as a mentorship program, Greater Influence quickly evolved to fulfill my vision of meeting its members’ anticipated needs by serving as a holistic resource for underrepresented students of all ages pursuing a career in medicine. Greater Influence would ultimately allow us to positively address the dire need for diversity in the physician workforce,
Although studies have shown that health care diversity produces more favorable outcomes in patient care, less than 13 percent of the physician workforce (AAMC) identifies as an underrepresented minority. However, these statistics are not just data points on a graph; they are my lived experiences and that of many students of color. So, I solicited several of my peers’ support to aid in jointly running and developing the organization.
I was fortunate to have met Stephen Canton, an MD/MS student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, during the early stages of the organization’s development. We quickly realized we shared a desire and passion for improving medical education and access for all. Now serving as Executive Director, Canton aims to help us become “an organization that will serve as a pipeline to help individuals underrepresented in medicine to realize their dreams.”
Consuela Abotsi-Kowu, another early addition to the team, says her motivation to become Greater Influence’s Development Director “stems from my need to empower and advocate for my community.” As a recent Masters of Public Health graduate from the University of California Los Angeles, she notes, “Public health statistics vividly paint pictures of the health disparities plaguing our communities of color. Greater Influence arms the next generation with the tools necessary to succeed and thrive so that they can become advocates for our communities.”
Soon thereafter, Programming Director Dele Osisami, Communications Director Giana Darville, Finance Director Elijah Hill, and Blog Director Ja’Neil Humphrey offered their unique skill sets and diverse experiences to support and execute Greater Influence’s mission. Most recently, Chelese Moore, a fourth-year dental student at the University of Michigan, joined Greater Influence because it was an opportunity for her “to encourage, inspire and pour into the next generation of health care professionals who may not have mentors to guide them along this journey.” She was incredibly excited about this opportunity because it allowed her to continue cultivating the community she found necessary during her undergraduate study as Greater Influence’s Outreach Director. She explained, “As a leader, it is important to me to cultivate and uplift the passions of those pursuing health care careers to be successful in their prospective fields of study.”
Today, the organization’s sole purpose is to provide necessary resources to diverse students, leveling the playing field and offering each student member a “fair shake” at achieving their bright future. Created and operated by students and young professionals, Greater Influence offers a growing range of services, including mental and emotional health resources, information on scholarships and internships, and mentorship and networking opportunities. We hold informational virtual events for students across health disciplines. In keeping with Greater Influence’s mission of innovatively increasing representation in health care careers by improving access to information and resources, we aim by personal connection to find and nurture future leaders, promote diversity and inclusion, and encourage students’ holistic growth.
Now more than ever, it is crucially important to invest in future physicians who intimately understand the needs of their communities. During the past year, the gaps in health care disparities have only continued to widen as COVID-19 continues to affect Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities at a disproportionate rate compared to their white counterparts(CDC). It is overwhelmingly evident that communities of color are more vulnerable, facing large barriers to access to health care and health education.
Greater Influence aims to tackle systemic racism in health care and combat the challenges faced by minority students by providing them with the necessary tools for success. We continue to build relationships with respected institutions and innovative organizations that share our specific goals and values. Locally, we have officially partnered with Northwest Area Health Education Center, Smoketown Family Wellness Center, Noir Black Chamber of Commerce, and Kentucky State University Pre-Medical Academy(KUMA). Northwest AHEC is a federally funded nonprofit that provides accredited health education and training across the continuum of education. Smoketown Family wellness center is an integrated healthcare model that provides medical care for children and healthy lifestyle support for the whole family. Noir Black Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit that aims to create social and economic opportunity for Black Americans. KUMA is a recently founded health academy that aims to equip HBCU students with the necessary tools for success.
We are currently developing plans for an official partnership with the University of Louisville and the Jefferson Country Public School system. I was also recently appointed to serve on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council by UofL Health CEO, Tom Miller. The council is chaired by Dr. Edward Miller in hopes of creating lasting change within our local healthcare network. Nationally, we have worked with or are in talks for official partnerships with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Loma Linda University, Dartmouth College, and multiple churches.
My goal as a future orthopedic surgeon is to improve the lives of my patients. As a Black future doctor, I recognize my unique experience requires me to pave a more inclusive path for those following behind – a charge I shoulder in lockstep with the Greater Influence team with great care, pride, and eager anticipation.
Members of the Greater Louisville Medical Society can contribute to Greater Influence’s mission by donating time, finances, or resources. For more information or to learn how to support the organization, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit greaterinfluence.org.
- (2014). Diversity in the Physician Workforce: Facts & Figures 2014 Report. Retrieved 2019, from AAMC.org: http://www.aamcdiversityfactsandfigures.org/section-ii-current- status-of-us-physician-workforce/index.html
- (2020). Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. Retrieved 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html
Giana Darville is the Communications Director for Greater Influence, Inc. Ruth Rodriguez is the Public Relations Specialist for Greater Influence, Inc.
Tino Mkorombindo is a fourth-year dual degree MD/MBA student at the University of Louisville. He is an aspiring orthopedic surgeon and currently works as a clinical research assistant at the Norton Leatherman Spine Center while taking his MBA courses. Mr. Mkorombindo is also the Founder and President of Greater Influence, Inc., and an HSC Health and Social Justice Scholar.