As the first recipient of a scholarship honoring the two students who desegregated Medical College of Georgia, Zola Francis was very aware of it and the historical significance that she and her classmates represent 50 years after them.
“It was overwhelming in a good way,” said the incoming medical student at Augusta University. “It motivates me positively.”
She is the first to get the $10,000 Drs. Frank Rumph and John T. Harper Sr. Diversity in Medicine Scholarship sponsored by MCG Foundation.
Francis, 22, a graduate of Georgia Tech, is also a product of the “pipeline” programs MCG created to help students like her become better prepared to apply for and get into medicals school as the school itself works to become more diverse and more representative of the state’s population as a whole.
Francis had two straight summers of preparation, first in the Student Educational Enrichment Program (SEEP) and then the following year in the Pre-matriculation program. That first program included a lot of studying and preparation for the grueling Medical College Admission Test, including fell-length practice exams once or twice a week, she said.
“In the past, I feel like I have had trouble taking standardized tests,” Francis said. “That helped me a lot, just developing my bank of test-taking strategies.”
She also got to shadow physicians and residents in clinic and came away impressed with how in tune they were with the needs of the community.
“I really liked an institution that knows the population that they treat very well,” Francis said. “It also helped me grow a support system here.”
That includes her roommate: her sister, Adero, who is in her third year at MCG.
“I’m really close to my sister so I am happy that we will be able to come to school together and I know a lot of her classmates,” Francis said. “Her classmates were my instructors during SEEP. That’s part of the reason I felt so comfortable coming here.”
It wasn’t always that way for students like her. In the late 1990s, some of the incoming classes at MCG had only one or two black students. When Dr. Paul Wallach, vice dean for academic affairs, arrived five years ago and looked at the number of underserved minorities in that year’s incoming class, he “was concerned because Georgia is a very diverse state,” he said. Less than 10 percent of that year’s class was black or Hispanic, “which doesn’t reflect the diversity of our state,” Wallach said.
The pipeline programs help, but Wallach also wanted those involved in the admissions process to think about how they were doing things and whether there was a better way to do them. MCG does not use quotas in admissions, he said, but it has steadily increased the diversity of its students while also increasing average academic and MCAT scores.
“We are in no way diluting the academics of the class, the class continues to be strong and outstanding and even better than it was,” Wallach said. “The performance of the students after they come to the school has been terrific.”
In the last three incoming classes, which includes the one that begins Monday, there have been between 50 and 60 black and Hispanic students.
“One of the challenges we face is that we find that most other medical schools are trying to do the same thing with regard to improving the diversity of classes,” Wallach said. “So having some scholarship funding to help with both diversity and disadvantaged students who come from very poor socioeconomic backgrounds is helpful and important to the school and critical to recruitment. We are very pleased to get this additional scholarship.”
Francis, who chose MCG over Baylor and Meharry medical colleges, said MCG already feels like home.
She arrives at MCG after already going through a long journey herself as a patient when in college she developed baffling symptoms of extreme fatigue, confusion, and pain that drove her to seek out a number of different specialists in hopes of getting an answer. While that is still not certain, Francis suspects it is food allergies or food intolerances and has adapted her diet so that her symptoms have gotten better but not gone totally away. That experience will also help shape her medical career, she believes, even before she has taken a single class.
“It taught me a lot about rebuilding myself,” Francis said. “I know I had something that was really confusing and painful and difficult for me. It taught me how terrible it is to feel like I am not in control of my own body. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor but it taught me what kind of doctor I want to be. I want to be someone who can help patients rebuild.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org