In Willowbrook, Charles Drew University has been teaching medical students for 57 years. But it hasn’t solely trained aspiring physicians — until now.
Last month, the university welcomed the inaugural class of students for its brand new and very own full-fledged medical school.
“The day I got my acceptance letter, it was just, ‘Congratulations,’ and I fell out on the floor because I had been working so many years for this,” said student Selom Gbewonyo. “I told my mom, told my sister, and it just feels like a dream come true because I knew since I was younger that I wanted to be a physician.”
For years, CDU partnered with UCLA to train future medical doctors.
Last October, after years of creating and designing a program of its own, the school was given the accreditation it needed to begin classes.
Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Dean of CDU’s College of Medicine, said the entire program is designed to help fix the stark racial disparity in the health care field.
“They come from a diverse set of backgrounds, and they bring to the table a wealth of not just passion, but knowledge,” Prothrow-Stith said. “I think they are going to make some of the best doctors this country has ever had, quite honestly.”
The first class is made up of 60 students, most of whom are people of color, who were selected out of a pool of more than 900 applicants.
In California, 45% of the population is Latino or Black, but those groups make up only 10% of physicians, according to school officials.
The program is designed to help fix that disparity, which officials believe will also lead to more patient trust among communities of color.
“The people that we picked had personal experience with discrimination, medical racism, poverty and injustice, and were resilient and thrived in their environment,” said Dr. Margarita Loeza, assistant dean of student affairs and admissions. “We have a really mature group that really understands, and we have people from the community who understand the problems in the community, and they’re going to fix their own problems.”
Prothrow-Stith believes this is an opportunity for the students and the school to change not only the face of health care, but the long-term economic status of their community.
“Imagine the little boy or little girl walking down the street, seeing us walking around, seeing our students. They’ll be able to see what they can be. That’s really important,” she said. “They’ll be able to visualize they can be the same, the physician, the physician leader. So, I think the legacy of Charles Drew is beyond this community. But a large part of it is right here.”
Gbewonyo is all about carrying out that mission.
She and the other 59 students in the first class are set to graduate in 2027.
“Be on the lookout. You know, we are up and coming,” she said. “There was history that was made and there is history that is going to be made by us.”
Source: NBC Los Angeles