CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Clinic is aiming to create new opportunities and bring diversity to the medical field through a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities by connecting top tier talent with local physicians and nurses.
"It's important for patients to see someone that looks like them and be able to relate to them," said Zaria Gouthier, Clark Atlanta University graduate.
Gouthier and Spelman College senior Sanaai Wynn just embarked on an interactive and immersive experience.
For the last eight weeks, the future physicians researched, shadowed, assisted and learned from doctors and nurses at the Cleveland Clinic.
It's all part of a pipeline program within the Clinic's Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute.
The powerhouse medical system partnered with Morehouse's School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia to bring opportunity and create positive change in the field of medicine.
Officials say the goal is to increase exposure in healthcare careers for often underrepresented and marginalized communities.
Wynn was honored to be selected and is inspired by the experience.
"I believe that it's important to have minorities as physicians, especially Black physicians, so that we're able to tear down those barriers," Wynn said.
Tearing down those barriers and making the doctor's office a safe space for all is something Vice Chairman of Vascular Surgery at the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Cleveland Clinic Institute Dr. Lee Kirksey has made his mission.
"We need for patients within our communities, our local community, with national community to understand the healthcare system is welcoming," he said.
Kirksey says the timing is essential.
He says the pandemic raised a lot of questions and highlighted a vital need for representation in medicine from Black and brown communities, especially with vaccine hesitancy.
"We need to be out there and gain the trust of these communities," he said.
Data from a 2021 UCLA study shows the number of Black doctors in the U.S. increased by just 4% over the last 120 years.
The Association of American Medical Colleges reports just 5% of doctors are Black and 6% are Hispanic.
Both Gouthier and Wynn say the experience has been beyond influential. They will take the skills with them they learned and observed as they embark on their own medical journeys.
In the meantime, Kirksey says the numbers and data speak volumes.
He says representation matters.
He is hopeful this is just the beginning of changing the face of modern medicine, and it inspires more promising young physicians of color to help make medicine accessible to all.
"Minority physicians, Black physicians are more likely to return to communities that they came from to care for those patients. It's possible," he said.
Cleveland Clinic officials say although this is year one of the program, they hope to continue and expand it over the next several years.