Taylor Carter, Amaka Ofodu and Eryn Wanyonyi all expected medical school to be tough, and they didn’t expect to have many African-American classmates. When the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) reached out to them, even before school started, they appreciated the support.
Now, with the help of SNMA and each other, each has become a leader in the UMKC School of Medicine and in the association.
“SNMA contacted me before orientation,” Ofodu said. “I always recognized that being a minority can make things more challenging, so when I learned there was an organization founded to support underrepresented students academically and mentally, I said, ‘Let me sign up!’ ”
Carter said her first year of medical school was a struggle academically, socially and mentally. But through the association she met “three of my absolute best friends, including Eryn and Amaka.” They helped each other through that first year, and now they all are on track to graduate in May.
“That is the beauty of SNMA,” Carter said. “It gives you a support system, mentors, friends. We all have each others’ backs.”
Wanyonyi agreed: “SNMA means so much to me. It provides a place to serve the underrepresented communities we come from, a place to network, and so much more.”
Part of that “so much more” is offering leadership training and opportunities, often through fellowships in the association’s Future Leadership Project. Wanyonyi and Carter had fellowships to learn about the national association’s workings, and Ofodu attended regional training.
Now, Wanyonyi and Carter hold national SNMA posts and are co-presidents of its UMKC chapter. Ofodu is chapter vice president and assistant director for the association’s upper Midwest region.
As SNMA vice chairperson for health policy and legislative affairs, Wanyonyi helps advance association efforts to affect medical education, national health care policies and minority and women’s health. Besides all her work with SNMA, she has done research in obstetrics and gynecology, the specialty she wants to pursue. And as a Paul Ambrose Scholar, she is working on a sexual health curriculum for a Kansas City high school.
Carter is the association’s national co-chair for academic affairs. She helps develop and maintain resources to help members, such as information on internships, scholarships, fellowships and research opportunities. As a Future Leadership Project fellow, she said, “I developed leadership skills, received mentorship from SNMA leaders and engaged in personal growth through monthly conference calls, leadership projects and national officer engagement.”
Carter is interested in general surgery and is back in Kansas City after a summer rotation in Atlanta. She’s working on a diversity and inclusion research project with Miranda Huffman, M.D.; was recently inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society; and is student representative on the Honor Council and Council on Selection.
Ofodu is an associate director for the association’s 10-state Region II, which encompasses Missouri, Kansas and much of the upper Midwest.
“This year I wanted our focus to be on increasing consistency and cohesiveness among the region with regionwide events. Our first event is ‘SNMA at the YMCA,’ which will require all the chapter in the region to volunteer at a local community center.”
Ofodu, who is interested in internal medicine and pediatrics, is a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She also is a Diversity Council student representative.
Producing such leaders helps fulfill another part of the Student National Medical Association mission, “addressing the needs of underserved communities and increasing the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians.”
Part of their leadership is passing their confidence and experience on to the first- through fifth-year students coming up behind them.
“I try to help my fellow SNMA members feel like they are not alone,” Ofodu said. “I want them to be aware of the stress and struggles but that they can and will be successful if they use the right resources. I also let them know that it is OK to feel scared, sad or worried, but it is not OK to let those feelings stop you from continuing with the program or your studies.”
Carter added: “To see other students, residents and doctors that look like me, doing the same thing as me is so important. SNMA has given me a support system and allowed me the chance to really develop as a leader. SNMA is invaluable to me. SNMA is my family.”