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Catholic Healthcare West Presents Scholarships to Eight Freshmen

By Vickie G. Hampton

Eight Morehouse freshmen who plan to pursue careers in medicine have a lot riding on their shoulders. Many people are hoping that they will be among the future doctors who will help correct decades of wrongs that have left the African American community in a state of health-care crisis.

In fact, Catholic Healthcare West is banking on it.

The San Francisco-based company has given each of the students $10,000 scholarships, renewable each year if they maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average, as well as continue to meet other criteria. CHW, comprised of a system of 41 hospitals and medical centers in California, Arizona and Nevada, is the eighth largest hospital system in the nation.

“The health care industry is a mess right now, and a part of that mess is because of under representation and participation by (African Americans), a fact that is both sad and significant,” said Ernest H. Urquhart, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for CHW. “We need to address the needs in our community before the crisis becomes much worse.

“We are pleased to be a part of a formal way to try to make a difference. If these eight scholars will become eight doctors—as they aspire to be—then we would have made that difference.”

Brenda Armstrong, associate dean for medical education and dean of medical school admissions at Duke University, said the newly named scholars must be closely monitored.

“Because you are among a group of people who are in danger of being lost to us, we are looking to keep you as close as possible to the path of expectation and excellence,” she said. “Many fall prey to distractions, but you stay on point,” she told the scholars in an address during a luncheon in their honor on Oct. 6. The luncheon was sponsored by the Morehouse College Office of Health Professions, which was instrumental in negotiating and securing the scholarships.

Alluding briefly to the many statistics that show that the health care situation in the African American community is flatlining, Armstrong said the new generation of black doctors may be the community’s only salvation.

“This is a sacred covenant with our community…. We become co-conspirators in the death of our community if we don’t address the part we can play in health care. The need for you to stay on point is just incredible.”

According to Armstrong, what’s ailing the black community has less to do with allocation of funds and more to do with the “ability to get (black patients) and keep them in the system where we have ways of curing them.”

There is documented evidence that the lag time between blacks and whites receiving health care attention can be counted in weeks and months, she said. “We can’t change the instances (of illness), but we can have an affect on (seeing that) appropriate care is given.”

Part of getting more blacks to visit the doctor’s office may be having more people who look like them in white coats. Provost David V. Taylor said that “having a workforce that is reflective of our diverse population is very important.”

There’s a lot of hope being put into the eight scholars, who are the inaugural recipients of the CHW scholarships. They all came highly prepared for the challenge. Among them is Jamal Z. Bankhead, who graduated valedictorian of his high school in Belzoni, Miss. After two months in college, he admitted that he is “still adjusting.” He chose to attend Morehouse over Xavier and Fisk universities because he felt Morehouse’s “really good, challenging biology department helps you make it to medical school.”

The CHW scholarship will also help get him to medical school, because, even with a full-tuition scholarship from the College, Bankhead needed funds for room and board, and other fees. As Dean John K. Haynes, dean of the Division of Science and Mathematics, pointed out, lack of financial support forces many talented students to delay or halt their education.

Scholar Sterling Johnson from Memphis—after assuring that his grades were, indeed, on point—said he doesn’t characterize all the admonitions to do well as added pressure.

“It’s not pressure, it’s a challenge,” he said. “We just have to do what we have to do.”

The six other scholars are John Martin, DeQuan Malone, Chad Lott, Daryl Fields, Robert Johnson and Everett Dixon.

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