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A small percentage of doctors are Black. Akron hospital officials want to help change that

Labor simulation at Akron health summit
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron high school student Sophia Peters (second from left) reacts as she participates in a labor and delivery simulation at the Future Healthcare Leaders' Summit in Akron Oct. 24, 2023.

Studies show just 6% of physicians in the U.S. are Black. Akron-area hospital systems are hoping to increase that share by exposing young individuals from underrepresented communities to careers in the medical field.

About 170 Akron Public Schools students gathered at the University of Akron for the annual Future Healthcare Leaders’ Summit on Tuesday.

They participated in demonstrations and learned about careers in the medical field from a racially diverse group of physicians, psychologists and medical students.

The goal of the event is to show students of underrepresented backgrounds that they belong in medicine, said Dr. Yoleetah Ilodi, director of diversity and inclusion at Summa Health.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, right?” Ilodi said. “You need to be exposed to people who look like you, who are from your own community, to be able to understand that you can also be able to obtain that.”

The students partook in demonstrations at seven different stations, including looking at X-rays, taking blood pressure and even simulating labor and delivery.

Akron high school students partake in a labor and delivery demonstration
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Dr. Jeanne Nwagwu (center) and Dr. Alyson Schlieper (right) of Summa Health guide an Akron Public Schools student through a delivery simulation during the Future Healthcare Leaders' Summit on Oct. 24, 2023.

At the delivery station, Sophia Peters, a junior at Garfield Community Learning Center, stared wide-eyed as her classmate Nevaeh Keyes pulled out a plastic placenta from a medical mannequin.

Peters, who is mixed, said the event was a good opportunity to figure out which fields of the health care industry she’s most interested in. She’s glad the hospital systems are promoting diversity, she added.

“You don’t know what someone’s knowledge is until you give them a chance to show it,” Peters said.

Peters added that while labor and delivery might not be for her, she is interested in becoming an ultrasound technician someday.

Dr. Charlie Brown, an adolescent psychiatrist at Akron Children’s Hospital who is Black, knows firsthand the importance of exposing young people to people of color to medicine. He said he did not see a doctor who looked like him until a family emergency growing up, he said.

“Instead of it taking some family health issue or crisis to create that opportunity, we're instead creating an opportunity while kids are doing well and trying to figure out who they are — where they want to go,” Brown said.

Dr. Jeanne Nwagwu, a second-year obstetrician and gynecology resident at Summa Health who is Black, hopes the event will also encourage the students to not be afraid to seek medical care from the hospitals in the area.

“Something that was also important for me too, when I was growing up, [was] being able to see doctors or health care providers who look like me. I think the hard part when you don't have that, you may not be as open or as trusting sometimes to those providers,” Nwagwu said.

Summa Health led the event and partnered with Akron General, Akron Children’s Hospital and physicians from Western Reserve Hospital.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.