Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) has received national recognition for its commitment to diversity and inclusion, winning the 2022 Health Professions Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award from INSIGHT into Diversity magazine.
“Since opening in Harlem in 2007, it has always been the mission of TouroCOM to graduate a diverse group of physicians and to help underserved communities,” said Kenneth Steier, DO, executive dean and chief academic officer. “We truly appreciate this award, which recognizes our success in meeting this mission.”
Leading the Way
TouroCOM is a national leader in matriculating and graduating underrepresented minorities (URM) according to the most recent data available from the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.
At the close of the 2021 academic year, 15 percent of TouroCOM’s graduating class were URMs compared with a national average of 9.3 percent. For fall semester of 2021, URMs made up 28 percent of the entering class compared with a national average of 12 percent.
To date, TouroCOM has graduated 302 URMs, constituting approximately 14 percent of its graduates, including the class of 2022.
In keeping with its mission to serve the underserved, about half of the school’s graduates accept residencies in the much-needed areas of primary care, and close to a third in underserved communities or primary care shortage areas.
TouroCOM’s success is achieved through a combination of efforts by the administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and the local community. They include fundraising for URM scholarships; supporting a multitude of community service opportunities in Harlem and elsewhere; and student-led outreach and recruitment efforts that connect prospective applicants with medical students.
“We can help prospective candidates see themselves in their future peers and provide a greater understanding of the medical school’s culture, making them more comfortable with the path,” said Dr. Nadege Dady, dean of student affairs.
For URM high school students, TouroCOM operates a highly successful two-year STEM afterschool program, “MedAchieve”. The curriculum mirrors that of the medical school and is taught by TouroCOM students, who also serve as mentors. The high school students are offered interviews, should they end up applying to TouroCOM one day.
The M.S. to DO Pathway
Many URM students enter the DO program through TouroCOM’s M.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Biological and Physical Sciences program. The year of study helps prepare students for medical school, and those who achieve a 3.45 GPA and pass a comprehensive exam can qualify to matriculate directly into the DO program.
Kevin Perez, OMS-II, a URM scholarship recipient who serves as president of the Student Government Association and a student ambassador, decided to pursue medicine during high school. He spent several years teaching and applying to medical schools but, like many other URMs with the same dream, was held back by a lack of financial resources needed for medical school applications and MCAT preparation. He did not give up on his dream and in 2017 he entered TouroCOM’s M.S. program and a year later matriculated directly into the DO program.
“Touro deserves recognition,” said Perez. “A lot of other medical schools are not doing what TouroCOM is doing, especially when it comes to increasing numbers of diverse students.
Jane Akhuetie, OMS-II, a Harlem native and another URM scholarship recipient, is grateful for the support she has received, which has made it possible for her to focus on her studies, stay in school, and support herself between semesters.
“As a student from a low-income background, I grew accustomed to working while attending school to make ends meet. But that’s not possible in medical school which requires all your energy and attention,” she said.
Perez says good mentoring changed his life and is key to success for URMs. “We need at least one person to show us the path…how to do things, how to study. Show us the way and then we can do it for others.”
Photo credit: L-R Kevin Perez Dr. Hazel Dukes Jane Akhuetie