Stepping Up for Equity in Medicine, One Student at a Time

Stepping up for equity in medicine, one student at a time

Jean Mallett gets nostalgic as she sifts through photos of young people she’s served as program manager for Student Enrichment and Inclusion in the Medical College of Wisconsin’s (MCW) Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity.

“That picture means a lot to me because she’s just a real special person,” Mallett says as she glows about a student who first participated in one of the university’s pipeline programs, graduated from MCW and is now moving on to a residency at Harvard. “We get to work with incredible young people and expose them to the most miraculous things that really spark joy and interest in who they get to be downstream and in the future. And that is a gift within itself.”

Through her office, Mallett works with both current MCW students and youth participants in the school’s series of pipeline programs. Pipeline programs – including the summer programs Apprenticeship in Medicine (AIM), the Research Opportunity for Academic Development in Science (ROADS), Diversity Summer Health-Related Research Education Program (DSHREP), and the year-round Student Enrichment Program for Underrepresented Professions (StEP-UP) –  provide many underrepresented youth in the area their first exposure to the STEM fields. The programs were created with the goal of increasing the number of underrepresented youth that pursue careers in science and medicine, including those who go on to attend MCW.

“To see their full progression is just a very rewarding moment because students commit so much time to MCW,” says Mallett, who some students refer to as “Mama Bear” or just “Mom.”

Helping them reach their full potential while they’re at MCW is a goal of Mallett and the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity. To do so involves having support systems in place to direct students towards success and acknowledging and being an advocate for their concerns.

“We want to be sure that when they share things with us that it’s not just in one ear and out the other, but that we’re actually attaching action to the things that they’re suggesting to us,” she Mallet says. “The way that they experience this institution as a learner is uniquely through their lens.”

Another goal is to make them feel whole, she says.

“We want them to feel the fullness of themselves and that they’re supposed to be here and they belong, and that they really have a sense of purpose in training here at the Medical College of Wisconsin,” she adds.

It’s a challenge, acknowledges Mallett, who admits students from underrepresented backgrounds can have a harder time experiencing the feelings of belonging when environments like medical school have historically not always addressed, nor met, their needs to succeed.

“I really want students to know, to recognize and to feel that MCW is an environment in which they thrive, and not in the cliche sense of the word thrive, but really that they have all that they need to be successful,” she says. “I want them to know that they are enough just as they are and that they can and will be amazing providers on the back end.”

Achieving Equity through Inclusion

In a more equitable world, having an office to foster inclusion wouldn’t be necessary, Mallett admits.

“Unfortunately, we live in a world and in a time where there’s not equity and there’s not justice,” she says.

These inequities extend to the medical field.

“We know that there hasn’t been a critical mass entrance of underrepresented trainees into the health sciences, and our office really wants to help change that outcome, and we want to be vocal about it,” she notes.

Increasing diversity in biomedical and health sciences will create an impact that extends back into communities, she explains.

“Statistics and studies will reveal that when you have an increase in the number of underrepresented physicians that are caring for communities, you have stronger health outcomes,” Mallett says.

The first step to help create that reality is exposure, she says.

“I always say that our summer programs are some of the best kept secrets in the city,” Mallett says. “What we’re trying to do now is make sure that it’s not accessible just to a few but that the masses really know and understand that this can be a major stepping stone for them should they choose to go the route of health care and the biomedical sciences.”

For some, that exposure leads them to MCW, while others might seek a career as a podiatrist, a teacher, or an information technology specialist, explains Mallett.

“You never know,” she says. “And they can completely have a divergence and go some other direction. But now they’ve been exposed, and I think that is the most critical piece.”

For those who do end up at MCW, “Mama” will be waiting to support them all the way. And while much of her joy comes from sharing their journey with them, Mallett’s most emotional moments are seeing them accomplish the goals they set.

“They’re moving on to a phase many of them counted themselves out to even achieve,” Mallett says. “The fact that they made it in the door is one thing, but the fact that they’re now transitioning out the door to a new space, and a new frontier for themselves, is wild, and one that makes me incredibly proud.”

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