Originally created 06/16/04

Mentor lived the message he speaks



Even though he went to Glenn Hills High School in Augusta, Chris Franklin took the long way to the School of Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia.

After his family moved to Germany during his sophomore year, he graduated from there and then served six years in the Army before making his way back to Augusta State University and then MCG.

The 30-year-old former sergeant will be starting his second year in the fall, but in the meantime he is mentoring disadvantaged youths in the same kind of summer program that gave him a leg up on getting into medical school.

The summer programs are vital to increasing minority applications and enrollment, officials said, and the medical students play a key role.

But Mr. Fields said he wasn't headed that way when he graduated from high school. Serving as a dental assistant in the Army seemed like a better choice.

"I wasn't ready for college," he said. "So I decided to join the military, and I matured so much in the military. I became confident in myself."

He also found his interest in medicine. While he was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1994, an aircraft accident at nearby Pope Air Force Base sprayed burning wreckage onto paratroopers waiting to board a plane, killing 24 and injuring more than 100. All available medical personnel were called to help - except the dental corps, he said.

"I wasn't able to help with saving the lives, but I wanted to be a part of it somehow, so I volunteered to assist the forensic dentist in identifying the bodies," Mr. Franklin said.

Doing well in biology at Augusta State helped boost his confidence, but the summer Student Educational Enrichment Program laid out a road map for him, he said.

"They told me what I need to do, how to go about getting into med school," Mr. Franklin said. "I followed that plan to a T. And it worked."

And this year's summer students are listening.

"It's just easier to believe somebody who has already gone through it," said Dorrie Saxon, 20, a junior at Spelman College.

Of those who have gone through the program, 20 percent ended up at MCG and more than 300 went to other schools, said Wilma Sykes-Brown, the associate administrative director for educational enrichment programs. More than 12,000 students have gone through a similar program coordinated by the Association of American Medical Colleges, and 5,800 later applied to medical school, of which 63 percent were accepted.

"If we can encourage as broad a range of students to consider a career in medicine and then support them through some tangible skills, then hopefully that plays out in a better health care environment," said Kevin Harris, the deputy director for the Summer Medical Education Program.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.