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Brian Stone, M.D.—a urologist who lives in Birmingham and practices in Jasper—still remembers what his mentors told him.

Donovan Watson with mentor, Brian Stone, M.D.Donovan Watson with mentor, Brian Stone, M.D.“As my mentors steered me along the way—some of whom were African-American—they didn’t ask much of me other than, if I had the opportunity, to reach back and help a young Black student,” Stone said. “I do the same with all of my students, but I’m very conscious of underrepresentation in our population. I do everything I can to teach and also tell the people I’m mentoring to do the same—be a mentor to somebody. You never know who you may influence.”

One student Stone mentors is Donovan Watson, a first-year medical student at the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. Watson is the first recipient of the Beta Kappa Boulé Medical Scholarship. The scholarship, which is funded by a $25,000 endowment, was established this year to support a URiM (underrepresented in medicine) student at the Heersink School of Medicine. Beta Kappa Boulé—which is the Birmingham chapter of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity—is an organization that is committed to mentoring young African-American men to become successful, contributing members of society. The national organization was founded in 1904 and is the oldest graduate African-American fraternity in the country.

“[Beta Kappa Boulé] has always represented some of the most successful Black men in the Birmingham community—doctors, lawyers and businesspeople,” Stone said. “We have always been very socially conscious, particularly now with the precipitous decline of African-Americans in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] careers. Creating this scholarship was part of this initiative, and we’ve also created a STEM program for the Boys and Girls Club of Birmingham, an after-school program to introduce the middle school to twelfth-grade kids to STEM activities. Our goal is to increase the pool of academically qualified kids with an interest in STEM majors which will allow UAB to recruit more Alabama natives into the School of Medicine who will more likely stay and practice medicine in Alabama.”

The Beta Kappa Boulé Medical Scholarship —funded by 13 members of the chapter, the majority of them physicians themselves, and a grant from the Beta Kappa Boulé national office—seeks to increase the number of Black students admitted to medical school, which Stone said is at its lowest point since 1978.

“That was kind of a call to action,” he said. “We’ve got to do something.”

The chapter’s goal became clear: to address the declining number of Black medical students. This scholarship is one way to help in that effort, Stone sad.

“Physicians of color tend to take care of the majority of Black patients, and they’re much more likely to work in the communities where those patients are,” he said. “It’s very important to us for that reason. Diversity in the physician workforce is critical in maintaining compassionate care for all.”

The Heersink School of Medicine, which is committed to diversity, provided a one-to-one match for Beta Kappa Boulé’s scholarship effort.

When Watson received his acceptance letter to the Heersink School of Medicine, alongside it was an email notifying him he’d received this scholarship, alleviating a large financial burden from Watson and his family.

“I was beyond happy,” Watson said. “It really helps my family out so much. I don’t have to take on student loans, and it really helps me tremendously. Also, I don’t have to worry about working as much, which helps take a weight off of my shoulders.”

The scholarship will cover 75 percent of Watson’s medical school tuition for four years. Watson—who has known he wanted to be a physician since he was a young child—did his undergraduate work at UAB, and the Heersink School of Medicine was always his top choice, he said.

“[Medicine] was one of those fascinations I’ve had since I was a little kid,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of procedures myself and watching doctors doing different things from a young age—I thought that was the coolest thing ever. As I got older and was doing different school assignments, science courses related to medicine was what I naturally gravitated towards. I did research on my own and volunteer work, and it really pushed me to this path.”

In addition to the financial support, Watson said through his connection to Beta Kappa Boulé, he has met many minority physicians, including Stone, who Watson has shadowed in his practice, Jasper Urology Associates.

“It’s very cool seeing what they’re doing for students,” Watson said. “Hopefully someday I’ll be able to contribute back to the same organization that helped me, as well. It would be very cool to give back like these doctors who have helped contribute to the fund. I’ve spoken to Dr. Stone and he’s invited me to [Beta Kappa Boulé] meetings, and as soon as I’m able to, I’m going to go out and meet some of the other people there as well. So far, it’s been really great getting to know him. He’s a very nice guy.”

Watson said he is interested in surgery, but still undecided as to what type of medicine he wants to practice long-term. Meeting the doctors in Birmingham’s Beta Kappa Boulé chapter will allow him to be mentored by doctors who can help him find the right fit for him in medicine.

“It’s opened doors to meet a lot of new people I might not have been able to meet had I not gotten the scholarship,” Watson said. “This has definitely helped and will help me going forward even more. [I want to] pick their brains and see what knowledge they have that they’d be willing to share—knowledge in their fields. I’m very interested to hear what advice they have for me going forward in life.”

Stone said he is currently helping his daughter with medical school applications and has paid $3,000 just in applications—let alone the cost of actually attending medical school once accepted.

“That in itself creates a profession that excludes people based on economics,” he said, remembering that when he was in medical school in the 1980s, his tuition was paid for through student loans with a staggeringly high-interest rate.

When underrepresented populations don’t have a seat at the table, it hurts the practice of medicine in the United States, Stone said. The Beta Kappa Boulé Medical Scholarship hopes to do its part to amplify the African-American voice in the profession, specifically in Alabama.

“Having diversity of thoughts in graduate medical education increases the likelihood of a compassionate physician,” Stone said. “We need diverse representation in all STEM professions.”

Watson said this scholarship allows him to be one underrepresented voice proudly taking a seat at the table.

“Because of [this scholarship], somebody like me gets to go to medical school and pursue his dreams,” Watson said.


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