WASHINGTON — Students at Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast Washington, who plan to pursue medical professions, got a chance earlier this month to explore their career dreams with assistance from people already working in the field.

But more importantly, they realized that by remaining in school, they stood at the forefront of helping to eliminate minority health disparities.

“The biggest thing that we pointed out was making sure that students who are going into the medical field have to stay in school to get their education,” said Dr. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association.

Rohack participated in the event on behalf of AMA’s Doctors Back to School (DBTS) project, a nationwide effort that endeavors to increase the number of minority physicians.

Rohack said DBTS was created seven years ago by AMA’s minority affairs consortium after realizing that in many instances, minority children hardly get a chance to see a physician outside of illness.

“One of the things that we recognized – especially for the Black minority population – was that while the national statistics show between 10 percent and 12 percent of our population is Black – only 5 percent of physicians are Black.”

He said that this year, more than 100,000 students from middle and high schools across the country participated in the DBTS program. In doing so, they asked questions ranging from how to become a nurse to becoming a medical researcher.

However, “it’s difficult to accept someone into medical school if they haven’t graduated from high school,” Rohack said. “So the reality has been that the matriculation rates for high school students make it very difficult for them to proceed on to college and obviously on to medical school.”

He said that he found it “exciting” that 100 percent of Friendship’s students graduate high school.

“And that in itself highlights a very important first step to eliminating health disparities among minorities ,” Rohack said, adding that AMA offers a scholarship program in which $10,000 is awarded to medical students from minority backgrounds.

Among Friendship’s curriculum offerings are a workforce development track that includes certificates for pharmacy tech assistant, emergency management technician, certified nursing assistant and a trainer assistant program.  In addition, students can explore careers in biotech engineering and research.?

This year marks Friendship’s first year in the program, with 33 students participating in the allied health initiative.

Dianne Harris, Friendship’s director of health services, said the event was exactly what her students needed. “Being an urban school, our kids are faced with a lot of different other challenges that they don’t see in their communities,” Harris said. ?
“As we’re dealing with health care reform and looking at all the health disparities in the Black community, we really need to make our students more aware of their surroundings and help them to understand why we have these disparities,” Harris continued. “Getting them to be more active in a positive way will hopefully change that and shift the paradigm of how our kids view their communities.”

Mike Townsend, spokesman for Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS) in the District, also participated, noting that his organization has been an advocate since 1996 of the city’s public charter schools.

“Friendship Collegiate recognizes this need and has committed to giving its students the opportunity to learn about and prepare for a career in the health care field,” said Townsend.