William G. Anderson, DO, has been a pioneer in civil rights as well as osteopathic medicine, working with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement and later serving as the AOA’s first African-American president.
The American Osteopathic Foundation’s scholarship in Dr. Anderson’s name honors exceptional osteopathic medical students from minority backgrounds who’ve shown leadership in meeting the health, educational and societal needs of minority communities. The DO recently spoke with two winners of the Dr. Anderson scholarship about their work in minority health and how receiving the scholarship impacted their lives.
‘A great honor’
For pediatrician Tyree Winters, DO, receiving the scholarship in 2005 couldn’t have come at a better time. He was nearing the aggregate limit for federal student loans and estimates he would have run out of money around the end of his fourth year in medical school. Dr. Winters’ mother, meanwhile, was already working three jobs to help cover costs.
When he received the scholarship, Dr. Winters brought his mother to the awards ceremony. “My mom didn’t know I had shared her story as part of my application,” he recalls. “At the awards ceremony, everyone was coming up to her telling her how wonderful she was, how proud she must be and how honored they were to meet her—it brought her to tears.”
Patricia Egwuatu, a fourth-year student at Pacific Northwest University College of Osteopathic Medicine (PNWU-COM), is the 2015 recipient of the scholarship. She’s worked extensively on issues related to minority health, including mentoring teens in underserved high schools and exploring health care inequalities in Yakima, Washington, where PNWU-COM is located.
“Without the scholarship, I would not have been able to go on interviews for residency programs, and I wouldn’t have matched into an ob-gyn program, which was my top choice,” she says. “It’s a great honor to feel I can continue Dr. Anderson’s work. I feel he helped enable me to live my dreams.”
Importance of mentorship
Dr. Winters and Egwuatu both cite mentorship as a key factor in strengthening the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine. “I’ve always had a passion for engaging my community, because I don’t want others to get left behind,” says Egwuatu, who mentors an aspiring medical student from an underserved community. “Becoming a physician is a challenging endeavor; if you don’t have any guidance, you’re kind of lost.”
Dr. Winters volunteers with Tour for Diversity in Medicine, an organization that travels across the U.S. speaking with minority high school students, undergraduates and recent grads about careers in medicine and dentistry. “Mentorship makes a big difference,” Dr. Winters says, noting that several of his mentees have gone on to attend osteopathic and allopathic medical schools. “It’s so important to engage with students and be able to say, ‘Here are some people who come from communities similar to yours who have pursued this profession.’”
Connecting with patients
Dr. Winters practices at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey in Newark, where he cares for a community he describes as predominantly African-American. He says a shared background can help physicians connect more easily with patients. “I identify with so many of my patients, and they respond to that,” he says.
Egwuatu also hopes her background will help put future patients at ease. Her father is from Nigeria, and her mother is from Uganda. She says in the community she grew up in, women’s health is rarely discussed and certain topics are culturally off-limits. “That’s why I want to be an ob-gyn: so I can be a gateway in the underserved community,” she says.