According to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Black men represent less than 3 percent of physicians in the United States, fewer than in the 1970s.

The College of Medicine is addressing this scarcity directly by reaching out to young Black male students through Black Boys and Men in Medicine, a program created with the partnership of the Black Male Working Academy (BMWA) in Lexington. BMWA and BBAMM offer middle school and high school boys connections with Black mentors in UK’s health colleges to support a path to careers in health care.

BBAMM was founded in 2019 by Anita Fernander, PhD, associate professor in behavioral science at the College of Medicine. Dr. Fernander’s departure and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the program. But Stephanie White, MD, MS, senior associate dean for medical student education and former associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, explained “we all felt passionate about continuing 
the project. And it’s been exciting to see it come to fruition.” 

Executive Director of BMWA Rosz Akins describes BBAMM as “a pipeline to get these young men to medical school.” 

“We select a group from sixth grade every year,” she explained, “and they’ll go all the way through high school to UK, and then medical school.” 

In early 2022, BMWA and BBAMM began offering one Saturday session every month of the school year. A lively mix of hands-on projects, personal contact with mentors, and food preparation, the sessions encourage students’ active learning and questioning. And they respond enthusiastically. 

On May 20, faculty, staff, and 15 students gathered as BBAMM celebrated the last session of the academic year. The College of Nursing offered a presentation as well as simulations that are a part of every nursing student’s training. One simulation was a mock-up of a hospital room with a (dummy) patient in the bed, and a variety of unsafe and unprofessional features.

The task: to identify and correct all the problems in the room. 

The College of Nursing facilitator faced the group. “I’ll need a volunteer,” she said. 

Immediately, every hand went up. 

Excited by the challenge, the boys looked around and quickly began pointing out what was wrong. Cigarettes on the table. Trash on the floor. Medical records open where anyone could see them. 

Darwin Conwell, MD, MSc, Jack M. Gill Endowed Chair of Internal Medicine, is closely involved with BBAMM and committed to its goal of encouraging Black boys to prepare for careers in the health professions. This year, he presented a session on the digestive system, a topic, he explained, that worked well with the food preparation activity that followed, sponsored by The Food Connection. 

“Diseases can be exacerbated by food choices,” Dr. Conwell pointed out. “Medicine and diet go together in health.” 

Under the guidance of chef Tanya Whitehouse of The Food Connection, the students prepared vegetable quesadillas, carefully cutting and sautéing the fresh onions, zucchini, and peppers and mixing them with a little bit of cheese. When the veggie-filled tortillas were cooked and ready, the boys enjoyed their healthy snack.

Teamwork is essential to the success of BBAMM, Dr. White explained. “It was the College of Medicine’s expansion of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that allowed this to happen. We have full-time people with the right skill set and the talent for building relationships.” 

Dr. White especially noted that DEI Acting Director Charla Hamilton has played a key role in bringing together health professionals from many specialties and incorporating different learning activities for the Saturday events. 

Jagger Wisley, a student at Carter G. Woodson Academy, was thoughtful when asked what he believes is most valuable about the BBAMM program. “I think the most important thing is that no matter where you are, you can work to meet your goals,” he said. 

Lux Leverette, who is home-schooled, said he believes that “the best thing is the interaction they let us have, getting to work with the doctors as if you were a real student. It’s very educational in the right ways.” Lux plans to be “a chiropractic and medical doctor” and has already chosen UK as his preferred college. 

“I’m going here,” he said with a smile. 

Dr. Conwell and Dr. White gathered the group for a white coat ceremony at the close of the event. UK medical students participate in this tradition at the close of their first week, after orientation, as a sign that they have joined the medical profession.

The white coats were a bit big on the young boys. But with the help of BBAMM, they will have the chance to grow into them.

This story was featured in the summer 2023 edition of UK Medicine magazine. Click here to read the full magazine.