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Promoting Diversity through Mentoring

Jul 28 2021

Posted In:

20/20 Blog

Palo Alto, CA — In the 2021 Stanford Medical Youth Science Program (SMYSP), students from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds spent five weeks engaging in a fully remote program that featured faculty lectures, professional development workshops, virtual networking events, and a public health disparities research project. 

Vinit Mahajan MD, PhD, professor and vice chair for ophthalmology research at Stanford, had the privilege of helping mentor these high school juniors from Northern and Central California.

Over zoom, Mahajan spoke on “Molecular surgery for eye disease." He explained how ophthalmologists are combining their surgical abilities with molecular biology to care for patients. The topics included human gene therapy and proteomics for biomarker discovery.

Mahajan said, “As a member of Stanford Ophthalmology’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion team, I am acutely aware of how important it is to actively recruit and support diverse groups of people to break down barriers, build strong academic programs, and reach marginalized communities. These are very bright students, and I don’t want to miss out on recruiting them into our field. SMYSP is making great strides in giving youth from underserved communities opportunities to learn about medical sciences that could be life changing.”

Mahajan said, “If these kids go on to careers in medicine and health science, they can be a bridge to their communities, which could positively impact patient care as well as basic science research. COVID has highlighted economic and racial disparities in medicine. It is the next generation of physicians and scientists that will have the biggest impact on equity in health.”

SMYSP research projects highlight these disparities. Some topics included addressing racial inequities in COVID-19 health outcomes, examining low birth outcomes for African American mothers, and combatting language barriers in hospital settings. 

One of the goals of the program is for participants to learn skills to become effective leaders and role models in their schools and communities. Students were mentored by faculty, health professionals, and college students on preparing for college, exploring careers in medicine, and becoming tomorrow’s leaders.

Mahajan said, “I really enjoy helping develop high school students and look forward to being involved as a mentor for years to come. This is important work. I admire all the students and faculty who over 30 years grew this student-directed program into a university-based program that offers academic enrichment in the biomedical sciences, college guidance, and long-term mentoring.”

Mahajan emphasized, “In my own clinic and laboratory, I’ve mentored men and women from underserved communities. Their competitiveness and achievements have been as great as any of their peers. I know they will continue to make impactful contributions in healthcare.”