Blog Global Health Center Health Equity

From adversity to achievement: The value of mentorship in medicine

Written by Wacim Benyoucef, MD student, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine; participant in the 2024 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

The author standing in front of WashU’s Becker Library

Pursuing a career in medicine is a challenging journey for everyone, but as a low-income student, the barriers can seem even more daunting. From childhood, financial concerns and lack of resources often mean working twice as hard to keep up with peers. My experiences have highlighted the critical need for diversity in medicine, particularly for those who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The statistics paint a clear picture of the hurdles that low-income students face on their path to medicine. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has highlighted persistent economic disparities among U.S. medical students. An analysis from 2018 showed that only 5% of matriculants came from the lowest household income quintile, while 24% came from the top 5%. A recent study published in JAMA underscores these disparities, revealing that applicants reporting an income of less than $50,000 were 48% less likely to be accepted into an MD program compared to applicants reporting an income of $200,000 or more. Many programs and initiatives have been launched with the goals of increasing representation in medicine and reducing existing inequities.

This summer, I’ve had the privilege of participating in the Cardiovascular Disease & Hematology (RADIANCE) Track of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program. I am honored to be working with Gmerice Hammond, MD, MPH, on health policy research and racial and socioeconomic disparities in cardiovascular disease outcomes. Dr. Hammond shares a similar background and understands the unique obstacles that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds face. Her mentorship has provided valuable insights into what it takes to pursue a career in medicine and has served as a source of inspiration. A pivotal part of my journey thus far has been connecting with mentors like Dr. Hammond, who understand my background and challenges. It is crucial for students to have role models who have walked a similar path and can offer guidance and encouragement. They show that it is possible to create a path for yourself and remind us that our backgrounds do not define our potential, they enrich it.

My journey in medicine has been uplifted by those who came before me, inspiring me to continue their work for those who will follow. By advocating for more programs like RADIANCE and increased mentorship, I am confident that we can create a healthcare workforce that reflects the diversity of our society.