Equal Opportunity, Diversity in Medicine: Interview with Brandi Freeman, MD, MS from the initiative “Tour for Diversity in Medicine“ Part 1

About our guest

Dr. Freeman is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado and the Faculty Liaison for Diversity in Pediatric Resident Education and Recruitment who works with the organisation “Tour for Diversity in Medicine”. It is her goal to improve mentoring for medical students from diverse backgrounds.

Dr. Freeman received a Bachelors of Science in Biology with minors in Chemistry and French from Duke University in Durham. She received her Doctorate in Medicine from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Dr. Freeman completed The Harriet Lane Pediatric Residency Program at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Children’s Center. She was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and received her Masters of Science in Health Policy Research.

The interview is divided into two parts. This part 1 covers Dr. Freeman’s story and her work with the “Tour for Diversity in Medicine”. Part 2 will cover her views and experiences regarding equal opportunities and diversity in the healthcare system in general. Die Deutsche Version können Sie hier lesen.

PolinaYou are one of the mentors of the Tour for Diversity in Medicine, a mentoring organisation that strives to support medical students from diverse backgrounds. What role did mentorship play in your professional career as a medical doctor and pediatrician?

Dr. Freeman: Having great mentorship was one of the most important things for me. I was really fortunate to literally have a mentor since the day I was born: my  paediatrician, who met me the very day I was born in the new born nursery, was someone I connected with very well. I asked him questions about high school, I asked him questions about college, he helped me figure out in college once I was interested in medicine, how was I going to do that, what I needed to be thinking of during the summers [Editor’s note: summer internships help prospective medical school candidates to improve chances of admission to medical school]. So I decided, that I wanted to be a doctor in high school. I think for me it was very impactful to have someone to guide me along the way and help me figure out what steps I needed to take to get into medicine and then give me that motivation and feedback to keep going when things seemed hard. 

Polina: So did you become mentor in Tour for Diversity because of the impact of your pediatrician on you and your career and because of your own desire to be a mentor not only for your patients?

Dr. Freeman: My story to Tour for diversity is a little bit different. I’ve known the founders since we were in medical school together. We were actually driving to a meeting that we had for another student organization that we were all involved with, called the student National Medical Association. And on the way, we came up with this idea. No one wanted to give us money when we were students to do it. And so, then the idea came back when we were faculty members, that we should try to do this. And then it was born. 

Polina: How does Tour for Diversity in Medicine help the new generation of applicants, students and physicians during the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Dr. Freeman: It has been been a change in perception for us within the pandemic. The Tour for Diversity started with us doing only in-person events and how we selected schools, sometimes was completely geographically. When we were mapping out a bus tour, we knew we needed to get from Virginia to Atlanta or Virginia to Florida. We knew we have to drive through these cities and so we were looking at schools around those areas. Sometimes that was what went into selecting how we did things and we recognize that we are connecting with a lot of students in need of guidance. But then we were also missing a lot. 

The pandemic forced us to not be able to do that. Therefore, we transitioned to this virtual model and what we’ve learned with it is that we are able to reach whole different types of students. So we’ve done two virtual tours now and we’ve had students from all across the United States but also we’ve had students be able to tune in from locations outside of the United States. This has taken out the barrier that our geographic location had put in place. Our virtual tours have been open to anyone with a think has been a great way for us to extend our work. 

Polina: Do you think that after the pandemic you’ll continue with these virtual tours? 

Dr. Freeman: I think we will probably do both. The pandemic made us realize that human connection in person is a really valuable thing and so I think there is something about us being able to connect as a team in person, being able to connect with students in person… I think it is something we will go back to. But also, we will continue the virtual model because our reach was able to be that much more. 

Polina: May I ask from which countries these students were? 

Dr. Freeman: So we know there were students signed in from Nigeria, India, from the UK… There were a couple who were actually medical students who were U.S. citizens attending medical school outside of the country. 

Polina: How do you define your target group? Is that just medical students applicants, high school students or post graduate students?

Dr. Freeman: So usually our target group has also been changing in the midst of this pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, our target audience had been pre-medical students, whose goal is getting into medical school. In the past three or four months we have actually started a very small mentoring program for medical students in the United States who are applying in Pediatrics. We got a small grant partnered with another organization to explore how to support students pursuing that specialty. But that has been the tour’s first exploration of doing medical student mentoring so far. It’s been going well, but it’s the first time we’ve done it. 

Polina: I see. Do you also reach out to high school students? What do you think Is important for teenagers when deciding if a career in healthcare is right for them?

Dr. Freeman: I’m a pediatrician, so I work with children of all ages from like 0 to age 23. Actually, some of my patients are not children anymore but I think having that connecting with a mentor, whether it’s in your career or through kind of a different type of organization than Tour for Diversity, it can be really important to helping you understand and pursue your goals. I’ve done talks with high school students, just talking about what my career is like and those different things to be on the lookout for. In high school you may not necessarily need a physician who’s telling you every single step of the way, but it can be important feedback. In the U.S. the path to medical school is complicated: you finish high school, then you do four years of undergraduate and then you do four years of medical school. And I’ve had students who told me: “I’m going to be a nurse because that’s what comes before doctor”. And that’s not actually true. People create perceptions of what they think is the path to career in medicine and so it can be helpful to have that insight. But the people to connect with really importantly in high school are those guidance counselors and other kind of career mentors or career specialist, who can help you figure out scholarships, figure out those opportunities to get you to those next steps to get you to medical school.

For me it was very impactful to have someone to guide me along the way and help me figure out what steps I needed to take to get into medicine and then give me that motivation and feedback to keep going when things did seem hard. 

Polina: On your website I saw that Tour for diversity, has many mentors. How do you recruit new members for the mentor team? Are they mostly medical students? 

Dr. Freeman: They have come from different areas. All those mentors are people who we’ve either known through different networks of working in the diversity and inclusion space either as medical students and the student of National Medical Association[1]  or through other kind of work collaborations. We’ve had people apply, who said “I saw you out there, I really want to do this” and then they’ve gone through our application process and applied, and interviewed to be a part of the tour. We’ve had a couple of students who were pre-medical students who then went on to medical school and then became mentors on the tour. Then we’ve had others who we have recruited while searching for a certain specialty. For example, at one point we wanted to specifically target pharmacist. We went out and sought a pharmacist to participate in the Tour. 

Polina: Do you think that now, where you also do the virtual tours, you will target for mentors that are not only from the U.S. but also from other countries that maybe have a better look, for example, for medical school system in the UK? 

Dr. Freeman: You reaching out to us has really made us think about the reach outside of the United States. I don’t think it’s something that we had thought about in terms of our strategic outlook. This is definitely a question of like, how do we do things better for people that are tuning in to what we’re doing from around the world. How do we connect with those students in that way? It’s definitely something that’s being discussed, but just that you are contacting us about this interview has been made us really excited about the possibilities.

How to contact Tour for Diversity in Medicine:

E-Mail: Info@tour4diversity.org

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 [1]The National Medical Association (NMA) is the collective voice of African American physicians and the leading force for parity and justice in medicine and the elimination of disparities in health.

Polina Frolova

Polina studiert Humanmedizin an der Universität Göttingen und interessiert sich besonders für Unfallchirurgie und Orthopädie. E-Mail: polina@medizin-von-morgen.de

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