Terry Mason was a recent college graduate from the South Side of Chicago trying to get accepted into medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1974. Raised in a rough neighborhood with gang violence, he knew it wouldn't be easy.
"At that time my grades weren't the greatest, and my MCAT scores weren't the greatest ... but it wasn't a reflection of my ability," says Mason, now a urologist and commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
He credits his success to a UIC program that began in 1968 to attract and train minority medical students. Mason earned his medical degree in 1978, the year the Illinois Legislature expanded the program, renaming it the Urban Health Program, in efforts to address the lack of Black health care providers in the area where Mason grew up and Chicago's West Side.
Since then, UHP has contributed to UIC being the nation's top nonhistorically Black institution in producing Black, Hispanic and American Indian health care professionals. The school notes that about 70 percent of Black and Hispanic doctors working in the Chicago metropolitan area graduated from the university and at least 60 percent of Black, Hispanic and American Indian doctors, nurses, dentists and other health care providers in Illinois participated in UHP. The program will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.
"I know that having a program like this is important because I look at it as providing an opportunity for somebody like me who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity" says Mason, who also is a faculty member in UIC's urology department.
UHP officials say they are able to recruit and graduate high numbers of minority health professionals because of their early outreach efforts, which expose public and private school students as young as age five to health careers and research. As students advance through middle and high school, the program offers academic, social and financial support for college.
Once students graduate from college and enroll in medical and graduate programs, UHP is there to offer them tutoring, mentors, internships conducting research at universities and companies around the world, plus regular interactions with medical residents and health care providers. The efforts reflect UHP's mission to increase the number of minority health practitioners and improve the quality of medical care in local communities of color.
"We try to educate and train students and make them aware of their responsibility as a minority health care provider," says Dr. Darryl Pendleton, UHP director in the College of Dentistry. Pendleton is one of several directors/associate deans overseeing UHP activities within each of UIC's seven health sciences colleges. Another UHP director runs the Early Outreach Program that works with students from kindergarten through their senior year of college.
Using a six-year grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, staff in the College of Dentistry worked hard to increase the number of minority faculty members over the past five years from five to 18, or 16 percent of the total faculty. And last year, minority student enrollment at the college composed 18 percent of the entering class, says Pendleton, who also serves as the college's associate dean for student and diversity affairs. He's hoping those numbers will rise to 25 percent this year, representing historic levels for the dental school.
Tackling Health Disparities
Program officials say many students involved in UHP come from communities where there are too few medical providers on hand to serve the population.
"So often they themselves may have been impacted by experiences navigating the health care system or family members navigating the health system" says Dr. Javette C. Orgain, UHP assistant dean in the College of Medicine.
The program does not require participating students to attend the university after high school. …