“The Stanford Medicine-Meharry Bond is Strong"
Meharry Med Student Matthew Burke Reflects on his Summer in Stanford Department of Medicine’s Mentorship Program
My name is Matthew Burke, and I am a second-year medical student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville Tennessee. In collaboration with my mentor Dr. Samantha Wang, my research last summer (2021) was entitled Teaching Anti-Racism: Insights from a Community Board of Black Patients. We built a novel teaching framework, called the 5-Minute Moment for Racial Justice (5MMRJ), to facilitate teaching health equity at the bedside. [Click on the 5MMRJ video].
Growing up, I watched my mother offer pro bono legal counsel to her clients and I watched my father donate hours of his time to teaching underserved populations about business and business law in the San Antonio area. I couldn’t help but notice that my parents’ greatest sense of joy came from serving our community. Witnessing my parents’ advocacy and service sparked my passion for community service and volunteerism.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent 500 hours on the frontline vaccinating Nashvillians and triaging them prior to receiving their vaccine. As a Black man, I have witnessed family, friends, teammates and strangers from my community put their health on the back burner. The prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease is rampant in our community, and a lack of trust for healthcare providers is common among the underserved.
I viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to educate and help my community, whether that meant sending Instagram DM’s to my friends to educate them about the safety of the Covid vaccine or inoculating the community myself. I write this to emphasize that one of my main goals in life is to provide equitable care to patients of all backgrounds and serve the communities I reside with.
As a late bloomer to conducting research, I was quite nervous to begin my first research experience. It seemed like such a transcendent rise from no research experience, other than the required undergraduate lab courses, to working with Stanford’s PRESENCE Center, within the Department of Medicine, but I knew this would be an opportunity of a lifetime. I initially thought all research required micro pipetting and bench work, so when I first connected with Dr. Wang, I was stoked to hear that our research would be focused on racial health equity. As the summer carried on, I became increasingly more confident in my ability to conduct research, interview faculty, and lead community advisory board (CAB) meetings on the topic of racial health equity.
Anything is Possible
My main takeaway from the Stanford-Meharry mentorship program is that anything is possible with a passionate mentor who is willing to work symbiotically with you. Dr. Wang gave me full permission to offer insights, share my story, and provide feedback throughout this entire research experience. She entrusted me with numerous tasks I had never done before, such as leading faculty interviews on the topic of race, leading a community advisory board meeting with participants from across the country, making a research poster, and presenting that poster in many different forums, including the AAMC GDI 2022 conference in Washington D.C. This experience and her confidence and trust in me have made me a more confident student.
On day one of the conference, I remember walking into the Mayflower: a gorgeous hotel with marble floors and huge ballrooms (yes, multiple ballrooms). I recall being extremely nervous and having a sense of imposter syndrome: did I belong? Would my presentation impress? Had I forgetten everything I knew? I felt that way until I saw the familiar faces of Sonoo Thadaney Israni and Dr. Bonnie Miller, who I was in contact with throughout the summer as they are collaborating on Stanford-affiliated J.E.D.I. (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) research. I sat with them for breakfast and they graciously introduced me to other impressive figures including program directors and prominent researchers.
While speaking with the table, I realized these are all regular people, who are interested in my story and the research Dr. Wang and I collaborated on. This led me to reflect on my hard work in collaboration with Dr. Wang and how far we had come, my time spent interviewing prominent figures, and my time spent leading CAB meetings. Surely enough, that same morning, while looking at my reflection in the mirror, I exhaled all doubt and anxiety and called my Mom, who seemingly always has the most timely words of wisdom. I knew I belonged and had all the confidence needed to carry on.
A Beautiful Collaboration
My second takeaway is the Stanford-Meharry bond is strong. It was beautiful to see the collaboration between Stanford faculty and my classmates each day. Our weekly Fireside Chats tended to go overtime as we lingered, asking Dr. Hannah Valantine questions about the hardships she faced as a Black woman pursuing Cardiology in London and the United States and listening in awe as National Humanitarian Award Recipient and the Founding Faculty Director of PRESENCE Dr. Abraham Verghese spoke to us about the second epidemic called Rural AIDs. These prominent figures treated us no differently than Stanford students; in fact, they had each of us introduce ourselves and Dr. Verghese even sent us signed books afterwards.
To this day, students who participated in the Stanford-Meharry research program rave about their summer 2021 experience as they jovially explain their novel research. I was enamored to see that many students found their specialty of choice, pathology being a top pick. (I partially attribute the interest in pathology to us learning during a Fireside Chat that one can pursue dermatopathology, which just sounds extremely cool). I have had the pleasure of having Littles, which at Meharry is a student from the class below that we are assigned to mentor. I urged my Little to apply to the Stanford Meharry program as I raved about my experience. I told him that participating in the Stanford-Meharry research initiative will yield lifelong relationships, connections, and experiences that he will forever cherish.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Opportunities like the Stanford-Meharry research program...sparked a passion in me to encourage students, especially minorities with lower GPA’s, to never settle and continue to pursue their dreams, whether they be medical or in any other field.
Thirdly and finally, one of the most important things I learned from my experience with the Stanford-Meharry research program is that our actions, leadership, and mentorship can foster an interest in medicine among future generations of learners from all backgrounds.
I came from a research-intensive undergraduate institution that was a stark contrast in rigor compared to my high school. Thus, I often felt behind, underprepared, and unmotivated. Opportunities like the Stanford-Meharry research program–in addition to Meharry accepting me into their Master’s program and later the School of Medicine–sparked a passion in me to encourage students, especially minorities with lower GPA’s, to never settle and continue to pursue their dreams, whether they be medical or in any other field.
I want to close by encouraging all students to enroll in this summer program, if possible. This research opportunity has opened numerous networking opportunities for me and my classmates. Furthermore, I came out of this experience with a new passion for research. I am still working with my mentor, Dr. Wang, to implement our curriculum nationwide at numerous medical institutions. In the meantime, I plan to present our research at prominent conferences across the country to explain new developments in Racial Health Equity and the medical curriculum. I would like to thank Dr. Wang and Thadaney Israni, Meharry and Stanford Medicine’s PRESENCE Graham Ladensohn Fellowship for this opportunity. To the Meharrians reading this, I strongly encourage you to apply and explore the amazing world of research with Stanford!