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TAMPA, Fla – Dexter Frederick recently stood in an administrative office at Grace Community Health Center in Tampa with a poster of the Periodic Table of the Elements hovering over his shoulders.

Morgan Butts, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida, stood in the doorway with a notepad in hand.

“How many days do you want to process it?” »Asked Frédéric, who has been a doctor for over 20 years. “Let’s go with 10.”

Together, they drew up a list of prescriptions.

“How many milligrams? Butts asked.

“0.4”, Frédéric replied. The patient will need 34 tablets to complete the treatment. If the fever rises or the pain gets worse, they discuss it, he will have to go to the emergency room.

“Questions?”

“I do not think so.”

Every day Frederick, 51, gives his students doses of real-world medical experience, gentle nudges and assertive advice mixed with opportunities to find the answers themselves.

Since 2004, he has supported minority students who dream of becoming doctors through a program he founded called Brain Expansions Scholastic Training, or BEST.

In 17 years, the Tampa program has supported about 3,000 students and provided more than $ 20,000 in scholarships, according to its website. They partner with a number of local institutions, including the Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of South Florida College of Nursing.

This fall, he was named the recipient of the 2022 AARP Purpose Award, an award that honors people over the age of 50 who use their knowledge to solve social problems. It includes $ 10,000 to advance his organization’s mission as well as a year of technical support to broaden the scope of work.

Brain Expansions Scholastic Training aims to address the lack of diversity among healthcare providers by inspiring and educating young people from under-represented groups who are passionate about medicine.

For the students, the intangible improvements in trust and sense of community within the program made their dreams come true.

“My vision is that my presence as an African American physician will be threefold, fourfold,” he said, “where millions of patients across the United States, especially in Tampa, will have better lives and healthier – reducing disparities, increasing confidence. “

“I loved studying bones”

In seventh grade, severe knee pain landed Frederick in the emergency room. There he began to admire the way the black doctor who cared for him watched the x-ray film and reassured him that he would eventually recover.

Frederick suffered from Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes knee pain in growing children and adolescents. A cast has been attached to her leg from her hip to her ankle for weeks.

“From that point on, I loved studying bones,” he said. After his first job in a third grade hospital, he spent every summer there. He left high school able to name every bone in the body.

While pursuing his medical studies, Frederick discovered his love for internal medicine and pediatrics. As an academic with the National Health Service Corps, which provides financial support to students in exchange for service in communities in need, he came to East Tampa after school.

“I was able to see patients who did not take their medication because they had to pay their rent or children who did not come for respiratory treatment due to the lack of transportation,” he said.

It was then that he began to realize the importance for patients of having the opportunity to see physicians from similar racial and cultural backgrounds.

“Sometimes if you don’t have a doctor who looks like you, who speaks like you, who understands the culture,” he said, “there is a certain mistrust, sometimes there is a delay in treatment. . “

One of the goals of the Brain Expansions school-based training program is to develop entering medical students with an understanding of the social determinants of health or how factors such as housing, food availability, safety public and education have an impact on the quality of life.

“The idea is that they will be more compassionate, more culturally competent,” Frederick said.

According to the most recent statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 5 percent of practicing physicians are black and 6 percent are Hispanic. More than half are white, according to 2018 data.

Only 36 percent of physicians are women.

Historically, a significant portion of black physicians were educated at historically black colleges and universities, but as the number of institutions declined, the path to a career in medicine became less clear for aspiring black physicians.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, nearly a quarter of black medical school graduates were graduating from HBCUs in the late 1970s. In 2019, less than 10% were.

Frederick hopes his program will reduce the lack of representation by providing students with images of like-minded people practicing in their chosen specialty while providing them with a concrete path through real-world training.

For many minority students, the medical school entrance exam is a stopping point, Frederick said.

“Some African American students can take it once and give up,” he said. “Why? Because they don’t have that mentor to tell them to go or they don’t have the financial support to prepare for the test or there’s another major that treats them better or gives them more opportunities.

His program and mentorship aim to reverse this trend: “We need to demystify what it means to be a doctor. “

See black healthcare professionals

Lavette Jones, 17, has wanted to be a doctor since she was little.

“I want to become a surgeon, but how will it be? She wondered. “I’ve never even seen someone like me on the pitch.”

That changed when she joined the Brain Expansions school training program where she began seeing black medical professionals.

Yet she is intimidated at the idea of ​​entering a field dominated by white males. Being looked down upon not only because she’s a woman, but because she’s black fuels doubts.

“I already doubt myself and I haven’t even started,” Jones said. “The pressure is so great to become who I always wanted to be.”

She remembers meeting a girl who said she wanted to be a medical assistant, but after talking more Jones realized that the girl really did aspire to be a doctor, but was disheartened by the time that it would take to get a degree. Then she had a meeting with Frederick to discuss her options.

While Frederick may not change the minds of all students, he views these conversations as opportunities to think about solutions to obstacles, especially for students of color.

Nastassia Pearcy is studying for the Medical School Admission Test, or MCAT. She plans to take the exam next spring. His interest in medicine solidified in high school while working with athletic training staff. Learning and treating sports injuries piqued the interest of the 19-year-old soccer and track athlete.

“Every day I’m more and more into it,” Pearcy said.

She worries about competing for a place in medical school and wonders if her race and gender will play against her. She is reassured to know that other black women and minority students are studying medicine.

“I’m not the only one about to struggle,” she joked. But she knows herself, she said, if she thinks about it, she will. For now, Pearcy is interested in both orthopedic sports medicine and anesthesiology and is studying biomedical sciences at the University of South Florida.

The vast majority of anesthesiologists – about 70 percent – are Caucasian. Orthopedic medicine has a similar perspective.

“It’s a little intimidating,” Pearcy said. “But I won’t let him bring me down.”

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