Reflecting the Nabe at Harlem Osteopathic School

Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine sits in the heart of Harlem but inside school walls, it might be a little harder to tell. (Photo by Joseph A, Creative Commons license)

Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine sits in the heart of Harlem but inside school walls, it might be a little harder to tell. (Photo by Joseph A, Creative Commons license)

The Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, founded in 2007, sits in the center of Harlem at West 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. But in an area that’s 58.7 percent African American, just under 7.5 percent of the 537 students in the last school year were black. Latinos make up 18.7 percent of the immediate neighborhood and dominate in nearby East Harlem. At Touro however, they make up only 6 percent of the student body.

According to an article by Madeleine Cummings that appeared in the Amsterdam News, and originally in Northattan, students want to change those numbers. With support from the school, they have started a program with hopes of reaching out to the underrepresented groups.

The key aspect of the program – known as Creating Osteopathic Minority Physicians who Achieve Scholastic Success (COMPASS) – involves students of color going out with recruiters, with the idea that minority students might be more comfortable going up to them.

According to COMPASS’ student founder, that tactic has been working.

Second-year medical student Jemima Akinsanya, who was born in Nigeria but grew up in the United States, said it struck her last year that the school could be doing more to reach out to minority students. After bringing her ideas to the deans, she started going to medical fairs and getting classmates involved in the effort.

“So far, the feedback has been really good,” she said, saying that medical school hopefuls feel more at ease talking with people they view as their peers. “There have already been students from fairs who are contacting me, asking, ‘I’m thinking about taking this course’ or ‘Should I take my MCAT again?’” She tells them that she isn’t an admissions officer but that she can give her opinion and share real-life examples, such as these mcat practice questions, from her time at the school.

Another reason for the low enrollment numbers among people of color could quite simply be a lack of awareness of the osteopathy field, says a school official.

Director of Admissions Emil Ruiz said a lack of knowledge about osteopathy in general is an additional barrier among the many other ones faced by minority students considering medical school. Some of those barriers include a lack of role models in medicine and the financial burdens of test preparation, applications and tuition.

“I do a lot of work on discussing diversity, but it’s more about defining what is an osteopathic physician,” Ruiz said. “A lot of them don’t realize what osteopathic medicine is.”

The field, which emerged in the Midwest during the late 19th century, emphasizes a holistic, hands-on approach to practicing medicine and includes about one-fifth of medical students nationwide.

Touro itself has made efforts to attract students of color, reaching out to them at fairs, open houses and minority-majority colleges networks. It also established a mandatory cultural competency class to have patients from the local Harlem area talk to the students.

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