Doctor for a Day aims to inspire students of color to pursue careers in medicine

A University of Washington program aimed at encouraging students of color to explore careers in medicine made its debut last month in the Edmonds School District.

On Oct. 26, Chase Lake Community School hosted the district’s first Doctor for a Day event, which invited medical professionals — primarily those of color — to provide outreach to students about careers in medicine. The program is run primarily by UW’s Student National Medical Association, with additional help provided by volunteer medical students.

More than 70 Chase Lake and Mountlake Terrace elementary school students attended the event, which included a panel of doctors, surgeons and other medical professions discussing their work before breaking into groups and lead students in hands-on activities.

For six years, the Doctor for a Day program has held events — at both UW and Seattle-area schools — to provide representation for students of color and encourage them to consider a career in medicine. The program was founded by Dr. Joy Thurman-Nguyen, a UW graduate who had experience with similar programs in  the past. While developing the program, Thurman-Nguyen collaborated with Dr. Estell Williams, who began working with the program during her residency at UW. Now a assistant professor of general surgery at the college, Williams is also the program’s executive director.

“I wanted to make sure (the program) had more support to grow,” she said.

In addition to being the first time the program has come to the Edmonds School District, this is also the first time Doctor for a Day has come to Snohomish County. However before inviting the program, the school district’s family engagement liaison Gloria Sepulveda was already working to bring more representation for students of color into the schools.

Sepulveda, who also works with Mountlake Terrace Elementary School, first invited a UW doctor to speak to Mountlake Terrace students. After seeing how excited the students were to speak with a person of color working in the medical field, she said she wanted to do more.

“We noticed how engaged the students were,” she said. “She (the doctor) spent an hour answering their questions.”

Based on the success from the initial meeting with the students, the doctor advised Sepulveda to reach out to Doctor for a Day. Sepulveda said she was enthused about exposing the schools’ diverse student population to people of color in career fields like medicine.

“I thought, why don’t we bring professionals of color, so kids can see themselves,” she said

The program offers different curriculums to teach students about a variety of different areas of medicine. During the event, students learned about musculoskeletal systems and autoimmune diseases from experts in rheumatology, orthopedics, rehabilitation medicine and physical and occupational therapy. Student activities included learning about skeletal structure from a model of a human skeleton, testing each other’s reflexes, and learning how to properly apply bandaging.

The event drew praise from Edmonds School Board Directors Deborah Kilgore and Carin Chase, who stopped by the school. Kilgore agreed that it is important for students of color to see health care professionals who look like them so they can set goals for themselves. According to Kilgore, if by sixth grade students do not believe they can enter the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career field, they are less likely to ever do so. She said programs like Doctor for a Day promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, students are likely to give it more thought.

“They may not go home and think ‘I want to be a doctor,’ but it’s in their head,” Kilgore said. “And the more they get, the better equipped they are.”

With companies like Boeing and Microsoft in the area, Kilgore also said that students in the district should be able to learn about STEM to prepare them for potential careers in related fields.

“Those are the best jobs and we want our kids to envision themselves in them,” she said. “Not everyone is going to choose it, but at least everybody has a chance.”

The event was funded through Chase Lake Community School’s Family Advisory Group, which raised money through a fundraiser at Applebee’s. The Family Advisory Group is comprised of families of color who work to promote advancement for students of color. Chase Lake Principal Sean Silver said the event was a chance to give a voice and leadership opportunities to historically underrepresented people.

Doctor for a Day holds multiple events throughout the year and students are invited to attend events at the UW campus or other area schools. Registration is required and some events may limit the number of visiting students attending events at other schools.

The next Doctor for a Day event is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Tukwila Community Center in Tukwila. During the event, students will learn about diabetes in honor of Diabetes Awareness Month in November. To register for the event, click here.

To learn more about Doctor for a Day, visit the program’s Facebook page. School faculty and staff interested in bringing Doctor for a Day to their school are advised to reach out to Danielle Ishem at ishem@uw.edu.

–Story and photos by Cody Sexton

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