Early on Saturday morning, February 25, more than 70 high school and college students gathered on the UAB Campus to learn about the myriad possibilities available to them in the study of health professions. The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) sponsors this annual event, which is dedicated to exposing students from underrepresented populations to a broad spectrum of careers in health-related fields.SNMA Leadership 2017

The UAB chapter of the SNMA is headed by four second-year medical students: Chisom Ifediba, President; Jarvis Johnson, Vice President; Maurice Asouzu, Treasurer, and Grace Raines, Secretary. Together, these students coordinate the health fairs, educational outreach efforts, and pipeline development programs that characterize the work of the organization.

“SNMA’s focus on underserved and underprivileged communities drew me to SNMA,” says Ifediba, who serves as the President of the UAB chapter. “We have a unique way of looking at things; we don’t just focus on health disparities, we strengthen the pipeline programs and make sure that individuals can be educated and then go back to serve their communities.”

The hallmark annual event for the SNMA is the Integrative Health Care Summit, where high school and college students from throughout Alabama came together for the 13th consecutive year to be introduced to a multitude of health professions, including (but not limited to):  optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, dentistry, medicine, nursing, and public health.

“We talk to the students about more than just their career choice,” Johnson says. “From the beginning, you have to develop good habits. Students need to work on time management and organization. They need to be aware of their social media presence – social media is an extension of who you are.”

Dr. Craig Hoesley and Dr. Carlton Young addressed the students at the Saturday summit before the students were split into workshop groups to learn more about their areas of interest.

While the Summit is important to strengthening the pipeline into the health professions, it’s only a part of the endeavors in which SNMA is engaged. Asouzu mentions the medical fairs, which are held at community locations throughout Birmingham free of charge to attendees. “Even though we’re only taking blood pressure for patients and checking glucose levels,” Asouzu says, “we’re making a difference. Not everyone has access to health care. Some people at those fairs haven’t seen a doctor in five or six years. We might be helping to catch a potentially serious health condition.”

Ifediba echoes this sentiment. “Giving back is a huge part of staying sane in medical school. If you’re constantly in a book, it can separate you from your ultimate goal, which is being a physician.”

In addition to health fairs, SNMA has performed outreach to local high schools. In conjunction with David Osula and the Academy of the Health Sciences, the SNMA performed mentoring at Carver High School. “I feel like it was important for us to let the Carver students know that medical school is a possibility for them,” says Raines. “The girl that I was mentoring at Carver told me, ‘Everyone just says that graduating from high school is great.’ She just was never told that college was a possibility.”

The SNMA is working to help high school and college students change their perceptions of their own limitations, to reach out to the local community - and also to provide a mechanism for addressing issues of equity and inclusion within the UAB School of Medicine student body.

“SNMA gives the student body a platform to talk about health disparities and to talk about being an underrepresented minority in medical school. It provides a safe, non-judgmental area,” says Ifediba.

“Overall, what SNMA does is keep reminding you why you’re working to become a doctor,” Johnson explains. “It gets you out of the books and into the community. It keeps your empathy level high. One of the things they talk to us about in medical school is that as we progress, we’re at risk of losing our empathy. Doing what we do helps keep our empathy.”