When a group of educators met at Howard University in 1975 to discuss what could be done to diversify the healthcare field, their focus was on medical training programs. But since its founding that year, the scope of the National Association of Medical Minority Educators, Inc. (NAMME) has expanded to include a breadth of health professions, among them allied health, pharmacy, optometry, nursing, and allopathic medicine.
NAMME’s primary objectives are to address the shortage of minorities in healthcare professions and improve access to training through professional mentoring and student development. Its hope is that an increase in the number of minority healthcare providers will alleviate health disparities among marginalized groups.
NAMME boasts 150 members — including health profession educators, administrators, practitioners, and students across the country — and partners with organizations like the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). According to NAMME President Anika Daniels-Osaze, these partnerships allow the organization to spread its message, co-sponsor events, and expand its knowledge base.
Encompassing a wide range of health professions also allows for greater communication across professional divides, which Daniels-Osaze says is currently a critical issue in healthcare.
“We’re seeing a nationwide change in curriculum to a team-based approach over a topical education,” she says. “Physicians increasingly don’t work in isolation and need to know how to work together as a team, maximize the skills they have in their field, and share resources with people in other fields.”
She says this shift toward interprofessional collaboration has been a topic of discussion at NAMME’s national conference, which takes place every fall.
NAMME also offers professional development training programs for members, including tutorials on searching for grant opportunities. Daniels-Osaze says members have used grant funding to develop pipeline programs for K-12 students to shadow healthcare professionals and take part in enrichment programs that expose them to the field at a young age.
“There are so many detours that happen in a child’s life,” Daniels-Osaze says. “If we let them become disengaged, then they don’t see the need to understand math more than as a way to get them from step A to step B. They’re not understanding how this is important in their development as healthcare providers. We have to figure out how to make them love math and science for life.”
Exposing K-12 students to an array of professions is also key to the success of NAMME’s mission. Daniels-Osaze says that when children’s and teens’ knowledge of health professions is drawn from television, that experience can be limited.
“When they don’t have images that look like them in the media, it’s not an option,” she says. “I didn’t know what an occupational therapist was until I was an adult, so how can we expect middle and high school students to know that these careers exist? But if we expose them earlier, they’re more likely to pursue these careers.”
In addition, NAMME provides eight $1,000 scholarships each year to students who have completed their first year of health profession training, are in good academic standing, and demonstrate financial need. Only NAMME members can nominate students, and nominees are selected in part based on their work in the community, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation.
Daniels-Osaze says NAMME’s goals include expanding memberships and partnerships with like-minded organizations and developing a student branch of the organization. She encourages those interested in learning about or joining NAMME to attend its national conference September 14-17 in Arlington, Va.●
Rebecca Prinster is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. To learn more about NAMME, visit nammenational.org.