There are many reasons to pursue diversity in medicine: social justice, providing a counterforce against societal bias, bringing new points of view to the clinic. There is also the emerging understanding that overcoming systemic racism helps ensure that everyone has a chance to access advanced education and training.
To help drive this change, the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has established the Black Lives Matter Fellowship to support Black students who want to conduct advanced work in neuroscience or neurosurgery.
The idea began to germinate during an online symposium in June 2020: Black Lives Matter: A priority today for neurosurgery, our community and our nation. The meeting brought together Dean Henri Ford, Dr. Barth Green, poet Guy Johnson, basketball great Alonzo Mourning and others to discuss the problems that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.
Later that summer, funds from neurosurgery faculty, scientists and students allowed the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis to bring on a pre-med student, who was mentored by Jae Lee, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery. The Jerome and Sonya Green Foundation provided additional support for summer 2021, expanding the program to four scholarships.
The fellowship is available for Black high school, college or medical students to support those who wish to gain clinical or basic research experience in the neurosciences and/or neurosurgery at the University of Miami. It's an incredibly tangible way we could contribute and make an immediate difference."
Allan Levi, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery
The four BLM scholars were chosen from 23 applicants and will come to the Miller School to learn, conduct research and share their ideas. "Our final four are just out-of-this-world talented," said Dr. Levi.
Waverly Rose Brim is working toward a Master of Science in artificial intelligence at The Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering and plans to apply to medical school. Brim wants to develop artificial intelligence clinical support software and will begin by developing basic science imaging techniques that avoid ionizing radiation.
"I propose innovating a new imaging modality that will harness the human body's inherent electrochemical capability," Brim said in her application. "The basic science tool to engineer this technology is the genetically encoded voltage indicator (GEVI – a protein that glows when it senses current). The GEVI readout would be interpreted by artificial intelligence."
Ariel Walker is a first-generation college graduate and a second-year medical student at Wayne State University. Watching her father suffer a stroke at 35 inspired her to help other stroke patients, particularly those in underserved groups.
"My goals for the summer are to engage in meaningful neuroscience research, specifically cerebrovascular neurosurgery aimed at targeting underrepresented populations at risk for developing hypertension and/or stroke," she said in her application. After medical school, Walker looks forward to entering a neurosurgery residency.
Ashia Hackett is a fourth-year medical student at Ross University School of Medicine and wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. She is inspired by the neurosurgeons who cared for her sister.
"I was a young child who witnessed and came to know phenomenal neurosurgeons via their surgical skills, compassion, and dedication," said Hackett in her application. "It was almost inevitable for me to enter the field of neurosurgery. Now, more than 10 years later, I can't imagine pursuing any other."
Krisna Maddy is a first-year student at the Miller School of Medicine. She has been deeply influenced by her Haitian parents, who are both physicians.
"Through witnessing my parents' lives as physicians while we were living in Haiti, I learned that medicine and its ability to heal people and communities was one of the few fights worth fighting for," she said in her application. "I am determined to cultivate a culture of bravery and sense of social good to come out of my life's work."
In addition to financial support, the program will give these students unique opportunities to work with some of the Miller School's luminary neurosurgeons and neuroscientists.
"We match them with mentors, who will teach them how to conduct research and hopefully get an opportunity to publish peer-reviewed articles," said Dr. Levi. "In turn, this will improve their applications for further training, whether it's in neurosurgery, neurology or a Ph.D. in neuroscience."