More than 200 students gathered at Brentwood High School on Saturday to interact with members of the Black Men in White Coats chapter at Stony Brook University who, through exposure, inspiration, mentoring and serving as prominent role models, were there to help increase the number of Black men entering the field of medicine. Drew Scott reports for NewsdayTV. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

When Chimdi Obinero first applied to medical school, he received a rejection letter in return.

The Commack High School graduate, who was among six panelists who spoke at a Saturday morning session designed to encourage young Black students to pursue careers in medicine, didn’t let that initial setback deter him.

Now a second-year medical student and MD candidate at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Obinero shared his story with a classroom of about 25 students at Brentwood High School.

“It was discouraging to have to go through the application process another time,” Obinero said. “But it's not something that I tried to dwell on too much. I just applied again.”

Tips to pursuing medicine

The panelists offered several pieces of advice for anyone interested in becoming a health care professional.

  • Volunteer at hospitals and join health and science-related summer programs.
  • Grow relationships with science educators and guidance counselors at your school.
  • Participate in community service because that will make your applications stand out.
  • Find like-minded people whose energy you can feed off.
  • Push yourself to succeed. As one panelist said, "Shoot your shot whenever you get the chance."

Persistence and possibility were central themes of the discussion, as the panelists told the Black students that they would face obstacles pursuing a career in medicine, though it was an achievable goal for them.

Obinero’s participation on the panel came through his involvement with Black Men in White Coats, a national organization that launched its Long Island chapter at Renaissance School of Medicine last year. The group, which notes that only 2% of doctors in the United States are Black men, aims to increase the number of Black men in the field of medicine through exposure and mentoring.

Told to not go into medicine

Dr. Brian Hall, a general surgeon in Brooklyn, grew up in Westbury and is the son of a Jamaican immigrant who is an auto mechanic. During his undergraduate studies at Penn State University in the late 1990s, he was told that because he is a Black man he should consider another field of study.

“My adviser said to me, ‘Go get a new career path, you’re not going into medicine,’ ” Dr. Hall recalled for the students.

The panelists who spoke at the Black Men in White...

The panelists who spoke at the Black Men in White Coats session at Brentwood High School on Saturday, from left: Dr. Brian Hall, a general surgeon in Brooklyn; Dr. Philip Hall (holding microphone), a recent graduate of the Ross University School of Medicine in Florida; Selena William, a family nurse practitioner; and Chimdi Obinera, Jermaine Robertson and Marquise Soto, all medical students at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.  Credit: Rick Kopstein

Instead he applied to the medical school at Howard University, and he stood before the students Saturday as a Black doctor hoping to inspire the next generation. Seated next to him on the panel was his younger cousin, Dr. Philip Hall, a native of St. James. Hall had his cousin to look up to as a mentor, even as he had to overcome his own set of obstacles to enter the challenging field of medicine.

Marquise Soto, who grew up in Merrick, is a second-year medical student at Renaissance and the president of the Long Island chapter of Black Men in White Coats. He said he was not exposed to any doctors of color growing up. It was through working in sales that he met Dr. Jedan Phillips, who runs the health clinic at Stony Brook, and was exposed for the first time to a Black man working as a physician. Phillips was the first of several Black mentors to inspire Soto to pursue his current path.

Medical students now mentors

Now Soto is getting an early start on doing the same for others, and his group plans to continue attending mentoring sessions at other Long Island high schools.

“We just want the students to come out at the end of this and say, ‘I can actually do this,’ ” Soto said.

Obinero said he and Soto are among just three Black men in their class studying to become doctors. There are only two in the class behind them.

“We want to work to reverse those trends,” Obinero said. “If we can do anything to get the idea into kids’ heads that they can apply to medical school … maybe one day, when they do decide to go into medicine, we can instill that passion in them.”

The panel on medicine was one of several, including sessions on education and business, held at Brentwood High School on Saturday during a mentorship and career event. It was hosted by the district and a pair of Black mentorship organizations with a presence in the school: Jack and Jill and My Brother’s Keeper.

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