2 Phoenix Doctors Launch Program To Boost Number Of Minorities Studying Medicine

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, September 16, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 9:18am

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The Social Photog
Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey talks to Joshua Ellis at Barrow Brain and Spine in Phoenix.

Two Valley doctors have launched a nonprofit to help boost the number of minorities in medicine. 

The Numbers

As a four-percenter, Dr. Alyx Porter Umphrey is not satisfied.

"Thirteen percent of the U.S. population identifies as black or African American, yet only 4% of physicians identify as black or African American," she said.

Cost is a big deterrent. The nuero-oncologist and her husband, Dr. Gregory Umphrey, graduated from medical school owing half a million dollars in student loans.

Through their nonprofit, ElevateMeD, the founders will provide scholarships, mentoring and financial management education to underrepresented medical students. The mission is to have a physician workforce that reflects the U.S. population.

"When you start to look at the numbers in terms of representation of the physician workforce, 9% identifies as black, LatinX, Native American or Alaska Native," Dr. Porter Umphrey said, "Nine percent."

According to data compiled by the American Medical Student Association, the percentage of 2015 medical school graduates broke down this way:

Rather than a percentage, the number of American Indian or Alaska Natives that graduated medical school in 2015 was listed as 20. For Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, the number was 5.

"Diversity really does make all of us better," said Dr. Porter Umphrey. "The more diverse physicians we have in this country will help us down the line improve our patient access, it will help our physician workforce learn from one another, such that we can start to mitigate some of those biases that as human beings we all carry that we know can lead to health disparities."

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The Social Photog
Dr. Gregory Umphrey and Sophia Ederaine at Barrow Brain and Spine in Phoenix.

The Program

The idea for ElevateMeD came as a result of discussions between Porter Umphrey and her husband. They thought about the opportunities they wish they’d had while attending medical school. While money was at the top, mentoring was right behind. Growing up in Scottsdale, Porter Umphrey said the first black physician she came across was on television: "The Cosby Show."

"I think it’s important in order to not only start to imagine yourself in some of these sub-specialties where there are significant disparity in terms of racial representation among physician workforce. I think you have to see it," she said. "And if you can't see it, I think that it's important to at least be paired with individuals who can help you get where it is that you want to go."

The program will include leadership training and financial management education.

"I can envision this program being sustainable, where we have empowered young physicians to not only one day be mentors themselves but also to be donors," Porter Umphrey said.

Since the organization launched its website in May, she said the group has raised money to fund two scholarships and hopes to cover three more during a fundraising event on Saturday, Sept. 21. Next spring, the founders expect to designate ten students for the inaugural ElevateMeD Scholars Program.

"I would argue that although this may not at face value be directly applicable for some of us,"she said "For the greater good, it's absolutely necessary."

Students considered underrepresented at this time are those from Black or African American, Latino or Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders.

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