NEW ORLEANS, December 6, 2023 – According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 8% of medical students and 5% of physicians are Black and African American. In an effort to address this disparity, the American Heart Association, the leading public health nonprofit organization dedicated to building a world of longer, healthier lives for all, has announced that four local students from two academic institutions have been selected to participate in its Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Scholars program.

Local awardees are:

David Durotoye - Junior biology major; Dillard University native of Lagos, Nigeria. Dean’s list scholar and White Coat Honors. STEM Student Tutor, Secretary of CMMP (Comprehensive Medical Mentoring Program) Lousiana Clinical Shadowing Program, Parliamentarian of Thompson Cook Honors Program, Secretary of Elevate (Men's Christian Club), Vice-President of Minority Association of Premedical Students, and Intern at Inovcares. David is passionate about his studies and looks forward to connecting with his mentor and being part of scientific research.

Mentor: Kevin Zwezdaryk, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Tulane University School of Medicine

Kayla Hennigan - Junior biology major; Dillard University native of Houston, TX. Dean’s lists scholar, Louisiana HOSA Anatomage Tournament Team winner, and award winner for Leadership and Service in Code Bleu Scholars Program. Director of Communications & Media for Minority Association for Pre-Health Students (MAPS), president of Thompson/Cook Honors Program, captain for Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, session leader for Yale Pathways Outreach Program, President & Co-founder of the executive board of Code Bleu Scholars Program, and member of Medical Science Academy. Kayla is looking forward to engaging in substantial research and working with a mentor.

Mentor: Prasad V.G. Katakam, MD, PhD, FCVS, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Tulane University School of Medicine

Tinaya Ware - Junior biochemistry major; Xavier University native of Memphis, TN. Dean’s list scholar. Recipient of the Pulse of Perseverance Scholarship, Biology Department Scholarship, and the Xavier Academic Scholarship. Member of the Mobile Outreach for Laboratory Enrichment, volunteer at the New Orleans Children’s Hospital, and volunteer at St. Michael’s Special School. Tinaya is excited to network and connect with scientific leaders and her peers. Her goal is to become a become a pediatric interventional cardiologist.

Mentor: Lydia Bazzano, MD, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Medical Director of the Bogalusa Heart Study, Tulane University School of Medicine

Kennedy Willis - Junior biology major; Xavier University native of Hollandale, MS. Dean’s list scholar. Member of Sexual Health Youth Advisory Board, American Chemical Society Chemistry Club, Chemistry Club, and Hope for Humanity. Intern for Teen Health Mississippi. Kenney is ready to gain research experience and connect with her peers. Her goal is to practice medicine in underserved communities.

Mentor: Elizabeth Engler-Chiurazzi, PhD, Assistant Professor, Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, IF/THEN Ambassador, Clinical Neuroscience Research Center, Department of Neurosurgery, Tulane Brain Institute, Tulane University.

The HBCU Scholars are enrolled in biomedical or other health sciences programs at their respective institutions. Through their participation in the Association’s Scholars program, they will study how the social determinants of health and other health disparities impact underserved communities. They will also participate in scientific research projects, be paired with a mentor and present their findings at the end of the program.

“Since 2015, the American Heart Association HBCU Scholars program has helped change the trajectory of dozens of under-represented students in science and medicine by fostering their talent, preparedness and growth to pursue careers in biomedical science” said Coretta LaGarde, executive director, American Heart Association, Greater New Orleans. “As champions for health care quality and access for all, the American Heart Association is committed to building the pipeline of diverse persons in medicine and empowering the next generation of research and health care professionals.”

The program is funded by a grant provided by the Quest Diagnostics Foundation, which also supports the American Heart Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutes (HSI) Scholars Program.

“This program plays an essential role in advancing health equity within healthcare practitioners and technical occupations including medicine, biotechnology, life sciences, engineering, research, public health and non-profit professionals,” said LaGarde. “We are proud of this next cohort of HBCU Scholars with the American Heart Association, Greater New Orleans, as it provides them with enriching academic and networking experiences to help them excel in their career paths.”

Accepted students are selected based on their GPA, completion of a formal application, which includes an essay, and an official recommendation from their school. During the program, scholars are paired with a mentor who works in health care or is currently performing their own relevant scientific research. They will also participate in a leadership development program and are awarded a financial stipend to help cover education-related expenses.

Clinical research studies published in the American Journal of Public Health suggest that patients of color may experience uncomfortable interactions and communication barriers with their health care providers due to lack of diversity and face implicit and unconscious bias from physicians and other health care professionals. These barriers, in turn, can lower patients’ trust in the overall health care system and as a result, these patients may not complete prescribed treatments or follow-up on recommended care. Addressing this issue is a vital component of the HBCU Scholars program.

Each year, the Association seeks applications from sophomores, juniors and seniors from historically underrepresented communities who are currently enrolled in an HBCU and are interested in pursuing a professional degree in biomedical and health sciences.

More about the American Heart Association’s HBCU Scholars initiative can be found here.


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century.

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