The Ohio State University Uses Innovative Education Programs to Increase Diversity in Health Professions

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 At The Ohio State University (OSU), superior health education means learning in diverse and innovative communities dedicated to increasing inclusiveness in the health professions. The university’s medical, nursing, and veterinary colleges provide unparalleled support for underserved students and exhibit an exceptional commitment to helping every individual thrive. 

[Above: OSU Medical Campus in Columbus, Ohio]

College of Medicine 

Underrepresented students are helped to achieve their dreams of becoming medical practitioners through the OSU College of Medicine’s (OSUMC) innovative and highly successful MEDPATH Premedical Postbaccalaureate Program (MEDPATH). 

Created in 1991 through a federal Health Careers Opportunity Program grant, the program’s goal is to increase the number of students from underrepresented areas in medicine and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in medical schools and to help these students succeed. 

Leon McDougle
Leon McDougle

“MEDPATH is focused on expanding the pool of successful medical school applicants and the medical workforce,” says Leon McDougle, MD, MPH, associate dean of diversity and inclusion for OSU’s Wexner Medical Center and the program’s director. “It provides one year of academic enrichment and preparation for students with high potential to help them be accepted into and excel in medical school.”

In addition to helping diversify the medical profession, MEDPATH aims to increase the number of physicians in minority and underserved communities. Being able to demonstrate a commitment to serving low-income and disadvantaged populations is a requirement for admission. Students who are not from underrepresented groups can also apply for the program if they commit to practicing in a medically underserved community.

A study conducted by McDougle and other researchers at OSUMC found that 67 percent of a random sample of physicians who had completed MEDPATH were “providing substantial care in underserved communities, as compared to 32 percent of other [medical] students,” he says. Many MEDPATH alumni go on to pursue academic medicine and inspire other underrepresented students; currently, there are several program graduates serving on the medical faculty at OSUMC, says McDougle. 

The program accepts 10 to 15 students annually. They convene at OSUMC for a one-week orientation that includes meeting with a learning strategist at the OSU Dennis Learning Center to develop success strategies, including concept mapping. This technique allows students to understand patterns and relationships between areas of knowledge and is a common tool in medical education, says McDougle. For MEDPATH students, it helps make connections between current knowledge and ongoing learning — thus helping to better prepare these students for taking the MCAT, he says. During the fall semester, students meet biweekly in small groups to review and update their concept maps with a learning strategist, he says. 

Throughout the year, students take high-level undergraduate courses such as medical terminology, physiology, and genetics. In the spring semester, they also complete MCAT review sessions before taking the exam in May. A short summer semester consists of an intensive “pre-entry program” that combines biochemistry, immunology, and gross anatomy courses designed specifically to help the transition into medical school. Regardless of which medical school a MEDPATH alum attends, McDougle says, OSUMC continues to offer ongoing support, such as medical education guides and publications. 

“This is a robust program with high standards because we really want our students to succeed in medical school. The goal is to provide the resources to assist with their individual academic plan that’s developed to fill any gaps in preparation for their success,” he says.

College of Nursing

At the OSU College of Nursing (CON), young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity before even applying to college to experience what it is like to be a practicing health professional. 

During the school’s Summer Institute for Discovering Nursing (SIDN), 30 local high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors spend four days of hands-on learning at the CON. The program is intended to introduce underrepresented students to the college environment and to teach them about the many educational and career opportunities in the nursing field, says Rachel Choto, CON’s equity and inclusion program manager. 

“This program is potentially one of the first times that (participants) step foot on a college campus,” she says. “It starts to create a sense of belonging, not only to the profession of nursing … but also to higher education.” 

SIDN is especially focused on recruiting those students whose ethnicity, race, or immigrant status makes them “not only heavily underrepresented in nursing” but also potentially prepared to treat “the communities that the nursing profession needs to be the most responsive to in terms of cultural competence,” says Choto. 

In addition to touring the OSU campus and learning about the college and nursing school application process — including some ACT prep sessions — students tour the James Cancer Hospital and receive scrubs and stethoscopes. They spend much of their time completing hands-on activities in the CON labs and classrooms. 

“[Participants] get to really feel what it’s like to be in a hospital environment and learn the basics of health assessment,” says Choto. “They’re also able to experience the technological aspects of education in our labs by interacting with various tools and simulation models.” 

High school students learn how to test blood pressure in the CON Summer Institute for Discovering Nursing.
High school students learn how to test blood pressure in the CON Summer Institute for Discovering Nursing.

Rather than simply touring the CON facilities and hearing others speak about nursing education, the students get to practice actual medical techniques. In the past, these have included CPR lessons on medical simulation dummies and learning how to treat mock wounds. “The students are very engaged in hands-on activities like this and learning how to practice on dummies what they may encounter when faced with a patient who has certain health conditions,” says Choto. 

This year, institute attendees will work with CON students and faculty doing cortisol analysis — testing human hair samples for levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Kathy Wright, PhD, CON chief diversity officer and assistant professor. “Students have the opportunity to see that nursing is a comprehensive profession that not only involves taking care of patients at their bedsides, but also includes research and innovation,” she says.  

The institute is not an overnight program, meaning almost all of the students come from local schools. Typically, a student will apply for SDIN at the suggestion of his or her high school guidance counselor, but the college is working on increasing outreach. “We’re hoping … for a more focused approach on working with local educators and support service staff who might be serving the same students who have an affinity for the pipeline we’re trying to create,” she says. 

SIDN participants at the CON campus in Columbus, Ohio
SIDN participants at the CON campus in Columbus, Ohio

Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA, a demonstrated commitment to diversity, an interest in nursing, and a desire to pursue a degree from The Ohio State University. The four-day experience costs $250 in tuition; full-service scholarships are available based on financial need. While the CON currently does not track how many SIDN alumni go on to attend OSU or pursue nursing education, Choto says that is a goal of the program. 

College of Veterinary Medicine

Five years ago, veterinary medicine was declared the “whitest profession in America” by The Atlantic, with 96.5 percent of practicing veterinarians being Caucasian. Despite this dramatic figure, the field is making progress because of rigorous diversity efforts by schools such as the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), where 18.5 percent of students were ethnic and racial minorities in 2017. 

Mary Jo Burkhard, DVM, PhD, associate dean for faculty and staff affairs, inclusive diversity, and planning, says the college has experienced a “marked increase in the diversity of our incoming classes” in recent years thanks to more inclusive recruitment and admissions processes. 

Mary Jo Burkhard
Mary Jo Burkhard

“We are actively working in many ways to increase the diversity of our profession,” says Burkhard, who is also an associate professor. “We want our college to represent the diversity of our communities, of our state, and the nation.” 

In order to create a supportive, welcoming environment for the growing number of underrepresented students on CVM’s campus, Burkhard and the college’s diversity committee realized that an important next step was to further develop inclusive values among the broader CVM community — a difficult task for veterinary students, faculty, residents, and interns, who all have to juggle demanding schedules, she says. “If you have patients showing up and a heavy course load, it’s hard to attend [diversity events] on the main OSU campus,” says Burkhard. Furthermore, while a number of online programs offered individual diversity training, it was important to the committee that they provide opportunities “to have cross-connections between faculty, staff, and students,” she says. 

“We needed to have something that could be located within the college and provide an opportunity for everybody to participate,” Burkhard says. “We really feel like something that’s going to be critical for us to be successful as a college is that people start talking to each other, … so we began to look at a certificate program model that was pioneered by the OSU College of Nursing.”

The College of Nursing’s Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare Certificate program allows students, faculty, and staff to earn three levels of certification to demonstrate their knowledge of and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Participants may attend certain events, for example, or volunteer for advocacy and outreach projects in order to earn credits. Using this basic framework, CVM developed their own three-tiered certificate program.

“The College of Nursing’s certificate program is very much focused on health disparities, but that’s not the sort of issues we deal with in veterinary medicine,” says Burkhard. “We had to look instead at what type of content would work best for us and we found a great partner for that in the (OSU) Multicultural Center.” 

Located on the university’s main campus, the OSU Office of Student Life’s Multicultural Center was able to provide expert guidance and content to help Burkhard and the CVM diversity committee develop what is now known as the CVM Community of Inclusion Certificate Program. 

Burkhard with students at the 2017 CVM Community of Inclusion Certificate Program Ceremony
Burkhard with students at the 2017 CVM Community of Inclusion Certificate Program Ceremony

Participants complete six “learning and dialogue/engagement experiences” per year in order to earn the level of Partner, Ambassador, or Champion. Experiences can include group discussions — facilitated by “community kits” developed by the multicultural center — centered around social identity topics such as race, gender and sexuality, or socioeconomic status. Students, faculty, and staff who pursue the certificate can also choose from taking online implicit bias tests, studying educational videos and articles, or attending events at OSU, in the community, or at CVM. 

Last year, CVM hosted various events, including panel discussions, speakers, and LGTBQ awareness and advocacy training, that could count towards certificate credits and, more important, provide opportunities for the college community to engage with one another. The events are open to all individuals, not just those who are choosing to pursue a certificate, says Burkhard. Some small group discussions may have no more than 10 attendees, while campus speakers can attract more than 100, she says. 

Thirty-six faculty, staff, and students completed the first level of the program — earning Partner certificates — in the 2016-2017 school year. Burkard says she is unsure of how many are planning to earn the Ambassador or Champion level certificates, but based on individual feedback, she believes interest in the program is growing. 

“The number one thing they like [about these events] is being able to interact with people who are in different areas of the college and to see the differences and similarities that exist around a topic between faculty, staff, and students,” says Burkhard. “Seeing the different perspectives and how they all come together is really the thing that most people like best about the program.”

Mariah Bohanon is Associate Editor for INSIGHT Into Diversity. OSU College of Medicine is a 2017 Health Professions HEED Award recipient. OSU College of Nursing is a 2016 and 2017 Health Professions HEED Award recipient. OSU College of Veterinary Medicine is a 2017 Health Professions HEED Award recipient. This article ran in our May 2018 issue.