Pre-med student created M.O.E. Scholars program dedicated to expose black youth to the medical field is currently helping students at Columbus City Preparatory for boys. Credit: Courtesy of Maurice Lathan

For one student, what started with the loss of a loved one turned into a passion for changing lives.

Maurice Lathan, a fifth-year in health science and biology, decided he wanted to become a doctor after losing his grandmother due to illness. He said he noticed a lack of African Americans in the medical field, which led him to create a program called M.O.E. Scholars — Medicine, Opportunity and Engagement — to expose black youth to the medical field at Columbus Preparatory for Boys.

Lathan said he was one of six students selected in 2018 for the William F. Pickard Scholarship, a program that develops student leaders who have an interest in economic issues affecting African American communities. The program is run by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center and Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center.

After conducting research through the program, Lathan said he found that the lack of African Americans in the medical field increases implicit bias, leading to negative health outcomes and affecting the insurance and medicine given to patients of different races. He said he also found that people want to be treated by people who look like them, and more African American people entering the medical field might increase how many African Americans go in for check-ups.

“M.O.E. Scholars’ purpose is to let the black youth know that black men and women are in the medical field. We can be lawyers, and we can be doctors. If we get more black doctors, we will have more black doctors help in underserved communities,” Lathan said.

Lathan said he received a grant through the scholarship program to implement M.O.E. Scholars at the Columbus Preparatory for Boys, a school where he has mentored for three years through the Bell National Resource Center.

“My goal in this specific school is to spark an interest at their age to inform them that there are people in this field that look like them. It’s all about inspiring them to be what they want to be,” Lathan said.

Toward the end of November, Lathan said he presented the program to the sixth- through eighth-grade boys and brought a sign-up sheet to gauge interest. This semester, he said he meets with 21 boys every Friday.

“Walking in and seeing all 21 kids excited and ready for the program has been my favorite moment,” Lathan said. “That was affirmation that my program is wanted.”

Lathan said the program will provide a visual representation of what men and women are doing in the medical field, provide information about different options in the field, take them on a tour of Ohio State’s medical campus and anatomy lab and conduct experiments.

“I think it will benefit the students because in the black community, specifically public schools, they are not given the proper education about specific skills. In their age, they don’t know the different jobs and specialties you can go into,” Lathan said. “Providing them with the resources and education will help them find out what they really want to do.”

Lathan said he has chosen seven African American pre-med Ohio State students, all sophomores and juniors, with whom he has worked closely to mentor the students. He said they were chosen based on their GPA, passions and involvement on campus.

Prosper Ssekayombya, a fourth-year in biology and mentor for M.O.E. Scholars, said he and Lathan became friends as pre-med students through the BNRC mentoring program.

“I think it’s an important program because if we can inspire an interest in the medical field, it’ll be effective because if they see us at the level we’re in right now, I think it’ll help them be convinced that this is something possible and they have potential to do this,” Ssekayombya said.

Lathan said he is currently working on implementing the program in a high school and hopes to expand the program to Ohio State’s campus for college students.

“I want to get scholarships for students that finish the program that will assist the cost of medical school, to give them a little boost after graduate college,” Lathan said. “I’m trying to make this program as big as I can — all through Ohio to help people with their dreams and build the black community up.”