Empowering Minority Women in Medicine
At Cincinnati Children’s, we’re transforming care by strengthening diversity in our workforce.
As Kayla strolls the path outside the Health Sciences Building at the University of Cincinnati, her steps have an uplifting energy to them. Even when she’s wearing her mask, you can tell she’s smiling as she talks about things like her favorite Broadway show, her passion for helping others and her plans for a future in healthcare.
A planner at heart, Kayla was looking into colleges before she hit 10th grade. Later, when her mom shared a book with her on speech pathology, she knew which path she wanted to follow—something that combined her love of teaching, science and medicine.
Being a young woman of color, Kayla understands deeply the importance of diversity in science and medicine. She’s seen firsthand that there aren’t as many women like her at school studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
In fact, there’s a critical shortage of minority women working in medicine and biomedical research in the United States. As an example, of all physicians and surgeons in the nation, fewer than 5 percent are Black women.
For many students in underserved areas, access to STEM programming is limited. And the lack of mentors in these fields makes it all the more difficult for young female students to envision themselves in these careers.
To empower women to pursue medicine and biomedical research and better meet the needs of the multicultural community we serve, we knew we had work to do. We also knew we had a dedicated community partner who would be a perfect fit.
We Start at the Pipeline
The Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee, has supported a number of initiatives to advance women in science at Cincinnati Children’s. And they view the opportunity to support minority girls and young women through the Charlotte R. Schmidlapp STEM Scholars Program as a natural extension.
Kayla credits the program for helping her get where she is today—working to complete her master’s degree in speech pathology.
Piloted in 2017, the STEM Scholars Program helps underrepresented minority girls and young women from middle school through college pursue their interests in science and biomedical research.
As a participant, Kayla got the chance to work two summer internships in our Department of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, where she met experts who became valuable mentors. She was also granted funding to complete preparation courses for the GRE test as she applied for her graduate program.
“A shortage of minority women in research, medicine and leadership positions not only impacts female students who have fewer role models to learn from,” says Jamilah Hackworth, EdD, director of the Charlotte R. Schmidlapp STEM Scholars Program. “It can also impact the delivery of care, furthering health disparities for underserved patient populations.”
A large part of the problem is a pipeline deficiency, where too many female students lack access to appropriate mentoring and educational resources. By reaching out to the underrepresented minority women and girls in our community, we can help students like Kayla and also strengthen our diverse environment.
“We need people of diverse backgrounds in order to understand, empathize and be a voice for patients,” Kayla says. “To move forward, we must embrace diversity of thought and bring forth more solutions for better outcomes.”
Working Together to Create Change
Without partners like the Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund, we wouldn’t be able to make the enormous progress we have. And together, we’re creating a powerful ripple effect.
The presence and participation of underrepresented minority women in research and medicine are critical for us to improve education, clinical care and community health outcomes.
“Many diverse physicians and scientists choose to conduct research about underserved populations and health-related disparities,” Dr. Hackworth explains. “So developing the next generation of minority biomedical researchers and physicians could have a substantial impact on the health and well-being of our community.”
In 2020, the Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund gave an additional $1.66 million to permanently endow the STEM Scholars Program. Because of its important role in advancing women in science, the medical center has committed to supporting a matching investment over the next five years, ensuring ongoing support for these vital programs well into the future.
“This impacts our community on so many different levels,” says Heidi Jark, senior vice president and managing director of the Foundation Office at Fifth Third Bank. “With this endowment, we’re securing our mission—and that’s to empower and advance women, plain and simple.”
And the opportunities that this program provides for young women in our community will make an impact that reaches beyond diversity in the workforce.
“Not only are we supporting what’s happening right here at Cincinnati Children’s,” Heidi says, “we’re also serving as a beacon to other institutions and as inspiration to other donors to develop outreach in their own communities.”