For eight weeks every summer, four competitively selected, eagerly excited and ambitious undergraduate juniors and seniors get the chance to come to Duke to participate in the REACH Equity Summer Undergraduate Research Program (RESURP).
RESURP is designed to inspire these bright young minds to consider making some level of commitment to addressing racial and ethnic health disparities within the context of whatever their careers will be.
REACH Equity is open to all rising juniors and seniors. The Center also seeks to engage individuals from racial and ethnic groups who are underrepresented in science and medicine. Many applicants already have an interest in medicine, public health or health care administration that is piqued by participation in RESURP, which includes both virtual and in-person activities on the Duke campus.
“Early exposure to information about racial and ethnic disparities in health care and exposure to role models who are committed to facilitating equitable care in their work will hopefully inspire students to do the same as part of their careers,” said Kimberly Johnson, MD, MHS, a nationally recognized leader in racial disparities research and the director of the Duke Center for Research to Advance Health Care Equity (REACH Equity), which sponsor the program along with the office of Dean Mary Klotman, MD.
The first summer session was held in 2019. Since then, 21 students have completed the program, which focuses on three main themes: 1) increased student knowledge of the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparities in health, 2) learning basic skills for clinical research, which includes a clinical research project related to health disparities, and 3) giving participants the opportunity to shadow clinicians.
“Students love this [shadowing] because many of them are already interested in medicine,” Johnson said. “So, this really gives them an opportunity for some hands-on observation of what that would be like for them.”
During their eight weeks at Duke, RESURP students participate in didactic sessions and workshops on topics like scientific writing, statistics, and clinical research methods. They are immersed in the REACH Equity Center’s community engagement core mission that includes a tour of Durham that highlights the context for health disparities. Students also take part in “lunch and learn” sessions with a multidisciplinary group of physicians, faculty members and other researchers whose work addresses health disparities, and they have the opportunity to shadow clinicians in primary care, pediatrics, the emergency department, and other specialties.
They start with a racial equity workshop that delves into the historical construction of race, racism, and present-day implications and strategies for mitigating it. In considering race and health, students read and discuss James H. Jones’s 1993 book, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, which deals with the U.S. Public Health Service’s non-therapeutic experiment involving over 400 Black male sharecroppers infected with syphilis.
They are supported by a huge volunteer commitment from Duke faculty members like Keisha Bentley Edwards, PhD, associate director of research for the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, associate professor in the division of General Internal Medicine, and co -director of the CTSI Center for Equity in Research, and Nosa Peters PhD, associate professor in Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences, both of whom served as research mentors for the 2023 RESURP session.
“There is a lot about race and racism, and really trying to unpack what they're seeing and why it's important is essential,” Johnson said. “Many of them will report that they had never considered the many ways that they could incorporate this into their career, and now they're planning to do it in some way. Almost all of them will talk about the opportunity to be exposed to faculty members who work in this space. They're really inspired by the work we do.”
RESURP Inspiration: Howard University Junior Jaylah Dorman Aims for Dream Career
University junior and Durham, North Carolina native Jaylah Dorman has big plans for her future, and RESURP is helping her prepare for that dream career. An honors health education major with a concentration in community health, she is an aspiring OB/GYN who has plans to open a community health center for the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Ms. Dorman is working on starting a nonprofit organization focused on Historically Black College and University (HBCU) alumni engagement with students.
Through her organization, she wants to build a pipeline of mentorship, professional development, and financial resources between alumni and current students. She wants employers to go directly to her HBCU ABLE platform to recruit top-tier talent from HBCUs! She also serves as vice president of Howard’s Student Ambassador Program, student representative on the University’s Honors College Council, and as a staffer in the Howard University Student Association campus health department.
Q: Please describe why you were interested in this program.
Jaylah Dorman: I was interested in RESURP because I was excited to gain additional exposure in the health care field. As an aspiring physician, I felt that it was time for me to get in the hospital and see what my life could look like sooner than I think. I knew that shadowing experience could really confirm my interest, and I am excited to say that it did! I was also ready to participate in research. I had experience with writing an honors thesis, but had very little experience with writing a manuscript or conducting clinical research. I also saw a lot of value in participating in a program of this magnitude in my hometown. Being able to participate in impact-driven research, which has the potential to improve the quality of care that minorities in Durham receive within the health care system means the WORLD to me!
Q: What are your top takeaways?
Jaylah Dorman: My first takeaway is that there are like-minded individuals all across the nation whose passion for health care is rooted in equity work. It’s affirming to know that I wouldn’t be in this fight alone. I’ve also come to understand the importance of learning about the history of health care in the communities where you practice. Learning about the history of health care in my hometown has given me so much perspective on why things are the way they are in the city of Durham and has pushed me to want to come back home to practice.
My last takeaway is that real work is being done to change how we approach health care. Leaders at Duke have acknowledged the negative impact that implicit bias and structural racism have on minority health outcomes and are encouraging physicians to participate in training sessions that push us to work against these issues.
Q: How will you move forward with what you learned in the program?
Jaylah Dorman: My research project, Using Doula Care to Decrease Black Maternal-Infant Health Disparities in the United States, has taught me so much! I am now a doula advocate and will push for all mothers in my personal and professional life to find a doula! The emotional, instrumental, and informational support that they provide is immensely valuable and can truly help save your life!
Q: What are your future career goals?
Jaylah Dorman: I currently plan to become an OB/GYN, a specialty that I’ve been interested in since high school. I was able to shadow in the specialty over this summer, and it truly confirmed my interest. Seeing the variety in OB/GYN as physicians do both clinical work and surgery is something that I know could fulfill me long-term.
One of my major career goals is to open a community health center where I can serve socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. I also plan to emphasize the importance of the social determinants of health in regards to achieving health equity through my center. This means that it will be more than an OB/GYN clinic. I want to provide childcare and wellness activities in the same location! Seeing all of the different clinics and centers during our community tour of Durham really motivated me to continue working towards my dream because I know that it is possible!
Q: Would you recommend this program to other undergraduates?
Jaylah Dorman: I would definitely recommend this program to other undergraduates! The combination of health equity educational sessions, clinical research, and shadowing experiences has been effective in showing me a glimpse of the work done in health care. I’ve been able to gain insight that has fulfilled and prepared me in ways that I did not expect. Conversing with Dr. Kimberly S. Johnson and Chancellor Eugene Washington—both HBCU-educated physicians from the South who are real change agents at Duke—has touched me in a way that I cannot put into words. I want to ensure that other students that look like me and attend HBCUs get the same opportunities that I did this summer. I know how impactful these experiences truly are, especially now that I’ve learned that diversifying the physician workforce directly combats structural racism and produces better health outcomes for Black people.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Jaylah Dorman: I really have to express my gratitude for everyone who has interacted with me this summer. I’ve been able to form relationships with my peers who are also embarking on their journey to medicine. I can’t wait to meet them at the top! Getting advice from professionals in the field and learning about their work and how passionate they are about their work is what continues to drive me towards medicine. I’m excited to see how the Duke Center for REACH Equity will continue to grow and flourish!
The 2023 RESURP scholars left to right are Ryan Norris of Morehouse College, Daniela Miro-Rivera, Yale University, Jaylah Dorman, Howard University, and Ruby Carter-Ogden, NC State University.