Video Transcript

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JOHN WHYTE: Hey, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. And you're watching Coronavirus in Context. There's no doubt of the impact of COVID-19 on minority populations. One of the ways to address that is to get more minorities in medical school. But it's not easy. We've been trying to do that for over 50 years, with limited success. So to help provide some insights, I've invited two medical students to join me today. Aaron Gilani is a third-year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine, and his colleague Jordan Saunders, a second-year medical student at Indiana. Thanks for joining me, guys. How are you today?

AARON GILANI: Doing well, Dr. Whyte. Thanks for having us. We really appreciate it.

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Doing well. Thank you, yes.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, I want to give some backstory. So Aaron, you messaged me through Twitter, and you said, Dr. Whyte, I think you should cover an organization, a match I started with Jordan called Prescribe It Forward. Tell us about what Prescribe It Forward is all about.

AARON GILANI: Absolutely. So Prescribe It Forward is a 100% free online platform that focuses on matching disadvantaged medical students, whether they be underrepresented in medicine, the first generation, uh, identify as LGBTQ+, uh, or just be nontraditional students. And-- and what we do is we take those students who may not have mentors in their life as they pursue medical school and we pair them with students who are currently in medical school who either come from that background, uh, or are just someone willing to give back and really educate someone through the process.

JOHN WHYTE: And how's it going, Jordan? Ha-- has it been successful? How man-- how many people have signed up?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: It's been very successful. I know we have over 900 mentees now. And, uh, we have around 850 mentors. And yeah, it's been-- it's blown up. OK.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to hear both of your stories, how you got, you know, interested in medicine, and your journey to medical school. Jordan, tell us when it all started for you that you decided you-- you wanted to become a doctor.

JORDAN SAUNDERS: So it started while I was mentoring, uh, middle school students in very marginalized communities in Baltimore, Maryland. And I just saw the impact, being a black male in, uh, a-- a-- a role like a doctor or physician in higher education, and how they really look up to you. And being the only phys-- medical student, first-generational medical student in my family, it's just the impact that I can give to, uh, communities, especially Black men that don't see, uh, other Black men in higher roles, and often become a victim of their own environment. And so that really is what inspired me.

JOHN WHYTE: Did you have role models or mentors that encouraged you to go into medicine?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Yes, I did. However, I didn't-- I didn't meet my first mentors until around sophomore year of college. And so-- but even then, just the inspiration that I, uh, got from just seeing someone that I can connect with and that looks like me in, uh, medicine, it really made all the difference, and, uh, and encouraged me.

JOHN WHYTE: Did people discourage you on the way, or were you pretty lucky that most folks encouraged you to-- to follow your passion?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Well, I would say that I wasn't directly discouraged. However, going through the process, there were times where I felt like people did not, uh, expect that I could become a doctor, or they just doubted me a little bit. And you know, over the-- over the course of, you know, high school and the whole medical, pre-medical process, just seeing, you know, another Black male in medicine, it really inspired me to know that, you know, that they have gone through the same process and has, uh, gotten to where I want to be. So, yeah.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, Aaron, you're on your rotations. That's why you're in your clinical garb. You're-- you're on the scene. Um, you know, and we talked prior to this interview, and-- and you talked about the importance of reaching folks who don't have a lot of doctors in their family, may not have come from, you know, the most advantaged communities and prep schools, et cetera. Tell our listeners your journey into medicine.

AARON GILANI: Absolutely. So I'm a first-generation American and the first in my family to graduate from a college in the United States and, you know, hopefully soon to be the first doctor in my family.

JOHN WHYTE: Congratulations.

AARON GILANI: Thank you. Thank you. You know, it's due to a lot of support that I've had my family and-- and mentors that I've established. But just kind of, you know, starting off, it was-- it was a pretty-- it was pretty uncharted waters, I would say. Um, you know, there's a lot of unwritten rules that feel like are inherent in the medical school process. Um, you know, how to really reach out to people, what kind of classes to take, things like that. So I was kind of on my own. Um, I actually come from a family of entrepreneurs, though, so I always had a-- you know, an itch for business, I always had a creative side.

And I always wanted to kind of marry that with medicine, uh, because I have a deaf and blind brother also. And so he grew up in the hospital. He's the reason why my parents came to the United States. So just wanting to take care of him, but also marry that was business and really affect health care on-- on a large scale was something I wanted to do. So that's why I'm in medicine, and that's why I also went to business school before medicine, uh, to really just, you know, affect health care on a large scale.

JOHN WHYTE: Was there a point in time for both of you that you said, this is just too hard? You know, it's a lot of work. It's-- it's really sometimes a battle of perseverance. It's expensive, taking out loans. Did-- did you ever have that moment, Aaron?

AARON GILANI: Absolutely. I know I did. Um, just first year in medical school, especially. I think when you come to medical school, you're really hoping to take care of people. Uh, but you kind of learn that, you know, you still to kind of go through the rite of passage of learning, you know, the basic sciences and things like that. And-- and you're with a lot of people who have always been high-achieving students, just like yourself.

So you start to kind of wonder, um, you know, if you're-- if you're belong and if you're as smart as everyone else. So that can kind of take a toll on you. Uh, but I think once you start getting into the hospital and really getting to take care of patients like I'm getting to do now, it's definitely worth it, uh, and I'm really glad I did it.

JOHN WHYTE: What about for you, Jordan?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Yeah, so I definitely have had, uh, the same thoughts as Aaron. And it happened twice, really. My first year of college, I played, uh, college football. And during that time, I really thought that it was gonna be too hard. I was a little bit discouraged that no one else has done it as an athlete, at least, uh, at my school. And--

JOHN WHYTE: What was your school?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: [INAUDIBLE] so I went to-- my first two years, I went to Marist College, and then I transferred to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

JOHN WHYTE: OK.

JORDAN SAUNDERS: But, uh, so yeah, so for my first year, I really doubted myself and questioned if it was really for me. And then first year of medical school, like Aaron, uh, you know, I think, looking back now, uh, I-- I battled imposter syndrome, and I-- you know, I doubted whether I belonged there or not. But as Aaron said, as-- as I got through, uh, first year, I stopped comparing myself to others, and, uh, and I really-- it came to mind that, you know, I-- I belong here just like everyone else.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, has the Black Lives Matter movement impacted you either personally or the medical school community where you are? What type of impact is it having?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: It has impacted my family. Uh, we have been to, uh, Black Lives Matter movements in, uh, our-- in North Carolina and in Charlotte. And you know, seeing it on TV and the news, it's both encouraging, but also, you know, the-- the back side of it, it can be, uh, challenging to deal with it alongside with school, uh, for the reasons why their-- the movement is happening right now. And so it has-- it was distracting and taking a toll on my family, uh, during, you know, the-- earlier this spring. And, uh, but it is encouraging to see the-- the support, and how you-- it's-- we're still talking about it today. It-- it wasn't just a few week, you know, uh, movement. So that-- that has been encouraging.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah. Now, gentlemen, it's 2020. How do we not already have some type of match program that you're created to connect, uh, mentors and mentees? And-- and why the two of you do it? Medical school is busy enough as it is. You've got to study all the time, or you should be studying all the time. Ah-- why-- why didn't it already exist, and-- and why are you two doing it now, as opposed to later in life?

AARON GILANI: Absolutely. So that's a great question. Uh, we were honestly just as surprised as you were, uh, that it didn't exist. Uh, it started off really because my personal board exams kept getting postponed due to COVID. Uh, so I kind of started reflecting and thinking about my-- my classmates and, you know, the two groups of-- of peers that I kind of had. You know, ones that came from physicians-- uh, family of physicians or communities that churned out physicians left and right, and other students who kind of, you know, were underrepresented or first-gen, and kind of just had to figure it out for themselves. Uh, and you know, at the same time, I coincidently saw a tweet from Jordan. And-- and Jordan, feel free to touch on that.

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Oh, yeah, so I-- I tweeted out, and it went semi viral, but it was basically wanting to increase diversity in medicine and mentorship, because there--

JOHN WHYTE: What did you tweet? Tell us the tweet.

JORDAN SAUNDERS: So I'll try to remember it, but it pretty much said how there needs to be, uh, mentors in, uh, medicine for students who are pre-medical or thinking about it. And I know I offered myself, uh, to be a mentor for those that need it, because it's been such an-- a big impact in my life. And so I tweeted it, and I got an overwhelmingly, uh, large response. I got a lot of DMs and messages and mentions. And then Aaron, he reached out and kind of helped me, uh, with all the people that were coming to me asking for mentors. And then that's when he reached out to me and said, hey, I have an idea. And that was Prescribe It Forward. And from there, it's just been going up.

JOHN WHYTE: Aaron is good at reaching out on Twitter, isn't he?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Yes.

JOHN WHYTE: So I want to end with, what are you both hopeful for? Aaron, what are you hopeful for?

AARON GILANI: Absolutely. So, um, this has already become bigger than we could have ever expected. So even if we just helped one person feel like they can achieve their dream of being a doctor, I mean, that's more than enough for us. Uh, you know, everything else is icing on the cake. But we're having fun with it. I think that's really important. But our goal for this is one day, you know, for-- for it to be a one-stop shop for all things mentorship and medicine. So one day for dental students, [? gay ?] students, really just anyone who feels like they need someone to listen to and, you know, don't have to pay an exorbitant amount of money, like some services require of folks. Uh, it's really just an outlet for people to, you know, get answers and get some support for their dreams, is our goal.

JORDAN SAUNDERS: And-- and to share, uh-- I share the same thoughts as Aaron, uh, but to add to that, just making sure that individuals who want to go into medicine, uh, they-- they can dream big, and really be connected and be supported by others that really-- that they can connect with and, uh, share the same values, because I think that is important.

JOHN WHYTE: Prescribe It Forward. We're gonna post the site on-- right here. You're both on Twitter, correct?

JORDAN SAUNDERS: Correct.

AARON GILANI: Absolutely.

JOHN WHYTE: It'll blow up after this. I want to thank you both, uh, for taking the time. I want to thank you for what you're doing to enhance diversity in medical school. And I'm sure the future is very bright for both of you. Thanks for joining today.

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