Mar 01, 2020 8:00 AM

Kolawole S. Okuyemi, MD, MPH, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Huntsman Cancer Institute
Kolawole S. Okuyemi, MD, MPH, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Huntsman Cancer Institute

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One of the most gratifying things about being in academic medicine is the culture of mentorship and training it engenders. When I was beginning my career, I had the benefit of faculty advisors who helped ensure I had the best training to allow me to succeed. And now, I have the privilege of mentoring junior faculty starting their own careers.

This sense of support inspired a new initiative at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in 2019. We recognized there is an incredible foundation of talent in Utah, but not enough young people were pursuing careers in academic medicine. An analysis of 500 Utah medical students indicated that only eight students identified as Hispanic or Latino, one student identified as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and no students identified as American Indian, despite these being significant minority groups in our state. In addition, 96% of Utah is rural with less than 100 people per square mile, and more than 70% is frontier, with less than seven people per square mile.

These factors of race, ethnicity, and geography could limit access to scientific training in high schools, resulting in barriers to future career paths. Without diverse voices in labs, clinics, and other academic settings, we may miss major opportunities to innovate the way we deliver health care in underserved and rural settings, the ways we reach varied communities, and much more.

We set out to make a difference. Thanks to incredible partners throughout Utah, including the state board of education, school districts, graduate education programs at the University of Utah, and others, we were awarded a new training grant from the National Cancer Institute called Youth Enjoy Science. This grant is designed to ensure more students have a pathway to early science training. And, we recognize that training teachers is key to multiplying the impact.

As a mentor, there is nothing more thrilling than seeing a student stand on a foundation of research and take the next steps toward making a difference—to push past boundaries through innovative thinking and collaboration. I am thrilled to work with these young minds at the earliest stages in their careers, and to consider what accomplishments they may have thanks to research training programs and a unique environment in this state that fosters partnership and resources to tackle big challenges.

Kolawole S. Okuyemi, MD, MPH
Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion
Huntsman Cancer Institute

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