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NC Central, Duke create physician internship program for underrepresented students

Monique Armelle Dacanay, the Mentored Internship Program's first intern, works with a Duke faculty member researching kidney disease.
Duke/HBCU MIP Program
Monique Armelle Dacanay, the Mentored Internship Program's first intern, works with a Duke University faculty member researching kidney disease.

Duke University and North Carolina Central University have teamed up to launch a one-year program to inspire more underrepresented students to enter the medical field.

Under the Mentored Internship Program, students from N.C. Central are paired with faculty researchers in Duke’s nephrology department — nephrology is a specialty focused on kidney care. The interns work for researchers for one year conducting research, writing manuscripts and attending seminars.

Dr. Gentzon Hall is a nephrology professor at Duke and vice chief of diversity, equity and inclusion. He originally came up with the idea for the program to honor his mentor Dr. Michelle Winn and Charles Johnson, the first Black faculty member at the Duke University School of Medicine.

Research shows a concerning trend when it comes to how many underrepresented students enroll in and complete medical school, particularly for Black students, Hall said.

“There are just fewer and fewer African Americans participating,” Hall said. “Representation is important, it has quite a bit to do with the quality of the experience that patients receive. And so it's a huge, huge issue.”

In the U.S., only 5.7% of physicians are Black.

Hall said he hopes the program gives students the chance to see what the research world looks like from the lens of underrepresented physicians at Duke.

“I thought that it would, in a way, demystify Duke for them,” Hall said, "to give them an opportunity to see themselves performing in an environment of higher learning that maybe they felt was inaccessible in one way or another.”

It also gives N.C. Central students an opportunity they otherwise might not have had, since the university doesn’t have a medical school. There’s only four medical schools in North Carolina, with Duke being the closest.

Nina Smith, the associate dean of N.C. Central’s College of Health and Sciences, said the partnership is a great way to showcase the talent of N.C. Central students.

“Unfortunately, our students and their abilities get overshadowed by neighboring institutions that may have more resources,” Smith said. “And so here’s a great way to bridge neighboring universities and institutions and leverage resources at both places.”

The initiative officially launched last month with the Mentored Internship Program’s first intern, Monique Armelle Dacanay. She’s a third-year student at N.C. Central studying biomedical sciences. At Duke, she works with nephrology specialists to research kidney disease.

Hall wants to expand the program next year to three students. He hopes the program will eventually expand to other departments and inspire partnerships with other universities.

“A sustained engagement that would allow generations of aspiring trainees to be equipped and more comfortable in their skin and these environments,” Hall said. “We certainly need their contributions, their genius, their perspectives to infiltrate these spaces.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC's higher education reporter and 2023 Fletcher Fellow.
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