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Dallas Doctor Creates Virtual Handshake For Pre-Med Students, Medical Schools

Lauren Silverman
Dr. Dale Okorodudu and his son, Tony, on the basketball court in Plano.

A national study a few years back revealed something shocking about black men in medical school: There were fewer in 2014 than in 1978. Med school recruiters are trying to step up their game, and one Dallas doctor has a tool that could help.

'Black men in white coats'

Dr. Dale Okoroduduknows two worlds: basketball and medicine. You can often find him on the court of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano with his son, Tony. Okorodudu says making it as a professional ball player, like making it as a doctor, requires dedication, mentorship and practice. Unlike basketball though, medical school recruiters don’t come to you.

“It’s very difficult to get recruited,” he says. “You try to go to these recruitment fairs that happen all across the country. But that costs time, that costs money, and the vast majorities of students just can't do that, right?”

In 2011, only 6.1 percent of medical school matriculants were black and 8.5 percent were Hispanic, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Okorodudu has been on a mission to get more underrepresented students interested in becoming doctors. A few years ago he began a series of videos called “Black Men In White Coats.

A '' for pre-med students

And while the videos were a success, Okorodudu realized inspiration alone doesn’t provide the direct connection students need to apply. That’s why he launched an online recruitment tool called PreMed Star. It links students interested in medical school with people in admissions, like Dr. Cedric Bright at the University of North Carolina.

“I’m excited because it’s a virtual platform,” Bright says.

Bright is an assistant dean at UNC's School of Medicine. The university ranks near the top when it comes to graduation rates for underrepresented minorities, especially African Americans and Native Americans.

He says it's about time millennial students can connect virtually, from anywhere in the world, with admissions officers.

“The average student who applies to medical school applies to over 15 different schools,” Bright says. “Certainly you want to have some type of a platform where you have the ability to interact with admissions officers to make that determination whether that’s a fit for you.”

PreMed Star is like for pre-med students. You create a profile, select schools you like, and people like Dr. Bright get an alert. So far, PreMed Star has about a dozen medical schools signed up, and partnerships with national student associations and the for-profit college company, Kaplan Inc.

Students of color are more likely to choose primary care and family practice as a specialty, and this is where the need is greatest.

Obed Figueroa, a diversity inclusion specialist in New York, has studied how schools’ are recruiting underrepresented medical students. He says there are barriers for students in the application process, such as low exam scores and high cost. There are also barriers for admissions officers.

“In medical school, committees are less forgiving for blemishes that one may have experienced,” Figueroa says. “It’s a competitive process.”

A needle in the haystack

Figueroa’s research shows universities can boost the number of minority med students. By partnering with student organizations, offering intensive test prep, and creating a K-12 science pipeline. So why invest the time and money? For one thing, there’s a national doctor shortage.

“Students of color are more likely to choose primary care and family practice as a specialty,” Figueroa says. “And this is where the need is greatest.”

That’s why med school applicant Larry Bellot is considering becoming a primary care doctor. To connect with schools, he’s signed up online for the free PreMedstar program.

“I felt that it was going to be very helpful not just to me as a nontraditional student but to me as a minority student.”

Bellot is in his late thirties and was born in Dominica in the Caribbean. He already has a Ph.D and is an adjunct biology professor at the University of Texas at Galveston. Even with that experience, he says he’s still a needle in the haystack.

“You may stand out as someone coming into med school as a minority form undergrad with a 4.0 GPA. However, if you’re coming in after having been in grad school for seven, eight years, you don’t stand out as much.”

Bellot hopes his profile on PreMedstar helps him get noticed and shows other minority students one pathway to the medical schools that are so eager to find them. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.