The Future Workforce

May 22, 2024
Storytime

Middlesex Health works to address racial health disparities in a number of different ways, including through two programs for youth: Medical Explorers and Health Care Heroes Story Time. 

These programs were created in partnership with local organizations and individuals through Greater Middletown for Equity in Medical Career Opportunities. This coalition seeks to create equitable opportunities for youth of color to pursue medical careers through exposure, education, inspiration and support. Currently, just 5.8 percent of American doctors are Black and 8.5 percent are Hispanic. However, 13 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Black and about 19 percent identifies as Latino.

According to the Middletown 2021 Equity Profile compiled by DataHaven, a Connecticut nonprofit, people of color in Middlesex County suffer from higher rates of chronic conditions,  such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension and obesity than white residents and are less likely to receive preventive care. The under-representation of health care clinicians of color in all fields, in addition to systemic racism and implicit bias contribute to these health disparities. Studies have shown that having a more diverse health care provider workforce is associated with better health outcomes for people of color.

The Medical Explorers Program

Through its Medical Explorers Program, Middlesex Health seeks to create a pipeline for youth of color to pursue health care careers with the ultimate goal of decreasing health disparities among people of color.

“Through exposure to a variety of fields in health care and learning about pathways to specific clinical roles, our hope is that our medical explorers can make their dreams of working in health care a reality,” says Catherine Rees, Middlesex’s director of community health improvement. 

The program has been offered virtually to students in grades seven through 12, and recent high school graduates, who identify as Black, Indigenous or Latino/a/e. 

In 2023, 12 participants were guided through a simulated patient case as it moved through the hospital system. Middlesex Health staff, who identify as people of color, were the featured speakers and modeled a variety of fields, such as emergency medicine, surgery, anesthesiology, psychiatry and primary care. This allowed students to learn about different professions, how the speakers pursued their professions and about their clinical expertise regarding the simulated case. 

On-site experiences included a tour of Middlesex Hospital, which allowed participants to meet staff and visit various clinical departments.

Future sessions are expected to offer more in-person and job shadowing experiences. 

Health Care Heroes Story Time

Health Care Heroes Story Time events are designed to introduce younger children to careers in health care. Four events at four different locations were offered in Middlesex County in 2023, including two events in Middletown, one in Westbrook and one in Cromwell. The event in Westbrook was offered in English and Spanish.

In February 2024, a special Health Care Heroes Story Time was held in Middletown to jointly celebrate Black History Month and the one-year anniversary of this initiative, and story time events will continue to be held throughout the year.

Stories

During the events, Middlesex Health medical providers, who identify as people of color, read a book featuring clinicians of color. They also guided participants in a hands-on activity, which included the children donning personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and bouffants to perform a simulated surgery. 

At the conclusion of each event, participants took home a free book — one that featured diverse health care providers.

Since Health Care Heroes Story Time began, 136 children have attended the various events. Of that 59 percent were children of color. 

In recognition of Black Children’s Book Week, the initiative also distributed 260 books to 13 elementary schools and churches in Middletown, Cromwell, Westbrook and Clinton (the four Middlesex County towns with a higher population of Black and/or Latino residents compared to other towns in the county).

“We’ve heard from many families after these events,” says Amber Kapoor, Middlesex Health’s health education, grants and survivorship coordinator who helps spearhead the initiative. “The children who attend go home and proudly tell their families they can be doctors. The seed has been planted!”

Health Care Heroes Story Time received funding through a grant from the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, along with support from the Middlesex Health Medical Staff and private donors. The initiative is co-led by Middlesex Health and the Middlesex County NAACP.

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