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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Winter 1996, Vol.16, No.1
The Medical Student and the Community: Malcolm X Scholars

By George Hunka

Malcolm X, the civil rights leader felled by an assassin's bullet, was killed in 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom across the street from Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. In 1984, P&S, with the help of the leader's widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz, established the Malcolm X Medical Scholarship in commemoration of his remarkable life. The scholarship is awarded each year to third- and fourth-year P&S minority students who show academic merit and who demonstrate a commitment to providing medical assistance to their communities.

Since its inception, the scholarship fund has grown to support four students each year. During the 12 years of its existence, the fund has provided assistance with tuition and living expenses for 16 students who have since graduated with medical degrees. Malcolm X scholars now practice in fields as diverse as anesthesiology and pediatrics, and they can be found in hospitals and clinics from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

The busy pace of a medical student's life often forces students to push concerns about community to the background. A few Malcolm X scholars alumni recently reflected on their medical school experiences and described how the scholarships have affected their careers. Their thoughts provide a portrait of the pressures and responsibilities that confront a medical practitioner.

Carol L. Brown'86: The First Malcolm X Scholar

The first recipient of the Malcolm X scholarship was Carol Brown, who in 1984 was in her third year of medical school at P&S. During that year she had achieved a measure of prominence for her activities among the medical school's black and Hispanic organizations. This was an extension of her community work at Harvard University, where she did tutoring and counseling in the largely black Roxbury neighborhood.

Dr. Carol Brown, the first Malcolm X scholar, is photographed with New York Gov. George Pataki at the October opening of the first building in the Audubon research park. Also shown with Dr. Brown are Ruth Messinger, Manhattan borough president, left, and Dr. Herbert Pardes, vice president for Health Sciences and dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

"I was very happy to get the scholarship, because medical school even then was expensive," Dr. Brown recalls. "I had started medical school with the intention of going into surgery, but by my third year had decided to pursue both clinical and academic study of gynecological oncology." The Malcolm X scholarship helped free her from worries about bills and loans and allowed her to concentrate on her studies.

"The scholarship was an even greater honor because I was so inspired by Malcolm X himself," she says. "He'd started out with so little and faced such great adversity but was able finally to turn his life around."

After graduating in 1986, Dr. Brown continued professional studies in medicine and today is a clinical assistant surgeon in the Department of Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In addition, she has pursued her academic interests and now holds the title of assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Cornell University Medical College.

As if this weren't enough, she serves on the clinical advisory board of the Breast Examination Center of Harlem and is assisting Dr. Harold Freeman, director of surgery at Harlem Hospital Center and professor of clinical surgery at P&S, in expansion of the center to include screening for cervical cancer. "Our main concern in the community now is access to screening and care for common gynecologic cancers in black women," Dr. Brown explains. "Mortality rates for uterine and cervical cancers are higher in African-American women and one of the reasons for this may be that African-American women typically present at a more advanced stage. But there's still a lot of research to be done."

The Malcolm X scholarship inspired her to continue on a path few minorities and few women follow, Dr. Brown says. "I hope that, through my work, I can serve as an example to other minorities and women who want to enter the field of research."

Allison McCarley'95: More Than Medicine

Allison McCarley, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, already had decided upon pediatrics as her specialty when she learned that she was one of four recipients of the 1995 Malcolm X scholarship. By then, public service was a responsibility she had been fulfilling for many years, first as a psychology major at Harvard University and later when she studied for her master's degree in public health at Columbia.

"For me," she says, "it's very important to stay connected to the community, and not necessarily in a way that involves medicine." At Harvard, she accomplished this by counseling and tutoring other students, and before beginning medical school she devoted much of her free time to a young adult clinic in New York.
Dr. Allison McCarley, Class of 1995

Her public service took on a more clinical tint, however, with the award of the scholarship. During the 1994-95 academic year, Dr. McCarley worked with AIDS awareness and drug abuse programs in the Bronx and assisted at a Bronx transitional shelter.

"Although I come from a middle class community, the poor black community always supported me with my work, and that was really more important," Dr. McCarley says. In fact, Dr. McCarley received support from a variety of sources: the graduate chapter of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta; her peers at the Harlem Hospital dinner held for the Malcolm X scholars; and members of the congregation at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which she joined upon her arrival in New York. "It was such a good feeling to get that encouragement.

"Mainly, the scholarship and the work I did in the Bronx have made me more sensitive to how patients coming from these poorer communities might feel about doctors and medicine." She intends to follow her instinct for community service even now, as a pediatrics resident at Washington's Children's National Medical Center and through the rest of her career. High on her list of concerns are drug abuse and child abuse.

Diane Ridley'92: A Helping Hand

While Diane Ridley was studying biology during her undergraduate years in Columbia's Upper West Side neighborhood, she spent some of her spare time as an academic tutor and mentor to young teens in a community youth program. Then, as a sophomore at Columbia, she found herself drawn to the Delta Sigma Theta sorority house, where she found women with concerns similar to her own.

"I am a member of the North Manhattan Alumni Chapter," Dr. Ridley says. "I serve on the membership committee, but more to the point, I serve as a member of the team mentoring committee. We work in areas with fairly high concentrations of young teen women. We take them on trips and give them help with their school work as well as other aspects of their lives."
Dr. Diane M. Ridley, Class of 1992

As a resident in anesthesiology at CPMC, Dr. Ridley provides medical assistance to young women as well. She plans to specialize in obstetrical anesthesiology, which has hurdles she must overcome. "The most important thing is to establish a rapport with a patient, but some people don't realize that their anesthesiologists are doctors, too. Once we're over that obstacle, it's much, much easier." When her residency is finished, Dr. Ridley hopes to remain affiliated with a teaching institution, to stay in touch with the academic community.

The Malcolm X Scholarship inspired Dr. Ridley to continue her dedication to working with the indigent. As to the scholarship itself, "I must say that the money helped," she says. "But even if it had come without a monetary reward, the Malcolm X Scholarship would still have been an extraordinary privilege and honor."

In addition to Dr. Ridley, Malcolm X scholars affiliated with Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center are Mia M. Wright'92, Elizabeth M. Lorde-Rollis '93, and Kristen Graves'95.

John M. Abbensetts'95 has started his residency at Maimonides Medical Center, and Dineo Khabele'94 is affiliated with New York Hospital. Kathie-Ann Ramsay Joseph'95 has started a residency at New York University Medical Center, and Kevin A. Williams'94 is affiliated with St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.

Other Malcolm X scholars are Sharon Malone'88, Barbara Gardner'88, Dawn Carwell'90, Carol Worrell'91, Diana LaPlace'91, and Alexander D. Porter'93.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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