Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) is on a mission to promote the practice of medicine in underserved areas, expand the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine and improve health outcomes for patients.
Established in 2007 as one of 30 campuses within The Touro College and University System, the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) Harlem campus is celebrating its Class of 2022 as its most diverse in the campus’s history. Thirty-seven out of 135 students — or 27 percent — are underrepresented minority students, a number significantly larger than the 8.9 percent of minority students in the field nationwide, according to the college’s website.
Of that class, 17 are male, 20 are female, 19 are Black, 16 are Hispanic and two are American Indian, says Dr. Nadege Dady, dean of student affairs for TouroCOM Harlem.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), osteopathic medicine is a distinctive form of medical care founded on the philosophy that all body systems are interrelated and dependent upon one another for good health. The profession has historically had a low number of minorities working in the field. In 2017, only 12 percent of American doctors were Black, and the percentage of Hispanics and Native Americans in the field is significantly less, according to a report from the Tour for Diversity in Medicine.
TouroCOM participates in a number of community outreach and recruitment efforts that help maintain and increase its minority student population. Dr. David Forstein, dean of TouroCOM Harlem says that the institution offers annual recruiting visits at both historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and institutions that have significant minority student populations.
The goal, he says, is to create an incoming class of students who feel like the institution is welcoming. “If you’re the only student of color in a class of 135 students, or there’s only two of you, that doesn’t feel warm and welcoming,” he says. “So we’ve traditionally been around 18 percent students of color. This year our incoming class is somewhere around 27 – 28 percent students of color. So, right away they don’t feel like they’re such a minority here.”
The Student Experience
TouroCOM Harlem offers two degree programs for students, a Master’s of Science program (also called the Master’s Pipeline Program) and the DO Program, or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program.
The Master’s Pipeline is an opportunity for students who didn’t initially get into TouroCOM to demonstrate that they can complete medical school work successfully. If they pass the program requirements successfully, they are automatically admitted into the DO program. The Pipeline program runs over the course of one academic school year.
Krystal Savice, a current DO student at the college, says the master’s program was challenging and overwhelming, “but speaking with some students that had done the program the prior year, they just gave me a lot of encouragement and motivation and just told me that the person that just does it and stops complaining will do it, and they gave me some really good study techniques.”
Savice, who is originally from Providence, Rhode Island, is president of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), an organization that helps minority students with professional development and increases their knowledge in cultural competency to benefit them in their careers. She is also the creative director of the diversity task force on campus, which fosters a sense of inclusion among students, faculty and the community in relation to cultural differences and similarities between ethnic groups.
Savice believes that the best thing about Touro is the fact that it’s still a relatively new school.
“Because of that, Touro’s very open and flexible to student led initiatives and they’re always open to evolving their curriculum or their on-campus student engagement,” she says. “So I do like that, that our input really matters and they’re not set in their ways as far as administration.”
The campus also has a student-led program that benefits high school students in Harlem called Med-Achieve, which teaches them the “fun parts” of medicine such as how to splint a cast and cover a wound, Forstein says.
“The purpose of the program was really to expose the youth in the community, kids that are in high school, to biological sciences,” says Dr. Gabrielle Jasmin, a previous Med-Achieve mentor and recent graduate. “I knew I wanted to join a club like this because that is one of my passions, building minorities in medicine or at least exposing minority students to medicine at an early age so as they go through high school and through college, if they did have a desire or a passion to pursue careers in biological sciences, a seed is planted early so that they can do that,” she says.
But the mentoring doesn’t stop there, Jasmin adds.
“As you build relationships with your mentees you’re able to offer help if they’re applying to college and what are they looking for, in terms of just guidance for career planning,” she says, adding that, as she was growing up, she wanted a mentor and now feels able to instill that passion in someone else.
Another program that the campus offers that benefits prospective students is the COMPASS welcoming event for student applicants. COMPASS stands for Creating Osteopathic Minority Physicians who Achieve Scholastic Success. The initiative was founded by a former TouroCOM Harlem student who saw a need for current students to engage with students applying to the college, Dady says.
Engaging with the Harlem community where TouroCOM is located, is a central part of the institution’s mission and fosters trust, Dady says.
That’s where TouroCOM’s Community Advisory Board comes in handy. The board is made up of a diverse group of Harlemites, including former elected officials, lawyers and doctors who are interested in recruiting minorities to the school, partnering on various initiatives concerning mentoring and participating in fundraising campaigns to help underrepresented minority students afford TouroCOM, says Dr. John Palmer, director of community affairs and diversity.
Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, has been involved with the campus since its early days.
“They made a presentation, they had gone to our former Congressman’s office and talked about what steps they should take to make sure that the community knew they were coming and they would welcome them,” says Dukes, adding that she appreciated the early outreach.
Dr. Jeffrey Gardere — a well-known television personality — is an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at the college. Gardere was at a TouroCOM community event, and, after hearing Rev. Alphonso Cohen, the school’s former director of community affairs and diversity talk about TouroCOM’s community service achievements, he thought to himself, “Wow, that sounds like a school that really does want to reach out to underrepresented minorities, and address the stigmas that are barriers to getting proper healthcare and mental healthcare in the community,” says Gardere in a recent interview with Diverse.
The college has been intentional about recognizing the campus’s historical past. September 20, 2018 marked the 60th anniversary of the first assassination attempt of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Blumstein’s department store in Harlem, where TouroCOM and Touro College of Pharmacy currently reside.
King was at his first book signing for Stride Toward Freedom located inside the store, when he was stabbed with a letter opener by a deranged woman. He was then rushed to Harlem Hospital where he was treated.
“We had a march of over 200 people, including many students from the Touro campus to Harlem Hospital,” says Forstein who noted that civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton was among those who spoke at the event.
Gardere says that the work of TouroCOM and its connection to King are all the more fitting.
“This building in historic Harlem, years ago, was a large department store that was boycotted by African-Americans for discriminatory hiring practices,” he says. “Now, as an African-American, to be teaching behavioral medicine to all of our students and bringing my perspective as a person of color with regard to psychiatry, I think speaks volumes about the greatness of America,” he says.
Monica Levitan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @monlevy_.
This article appeared in the November 29, 2018 edition of Diverse.