Get To Know The REACH Scholars in Ob/Gyn This Summer

Stanford Medicine’s commitment to the future of medicine and improving patient outcomes lies in training, recruiting, and retaining diverse, inclusive, and equitable physician-researchers. This commitment is exemplified by its Racial Equity to Advance a Community of Health (REACH) Initiative, which aims to promote racial equity and create a diverse and inclusive community of health.

One program of the REACH initiative involves bi-directional collaborations with Historically Black Medical Colleges (HBMC) wherein medical students are able to complete a 8-week summer research project under the mentorship of faculty in various Stanford School of Medicine departments. We talked to two summer research scholars from the program about the impact of the REACH initiative and the research projects that they are leading in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department.

Jheanelle Atkinson and Karl-Stephane Louis-Jacques, both second-year medical students from Meharry Medical College, shared their experiences and perspectives on the REACH-HBMC program.

Atkinson and Louis-Jacques both learned about Stanford's REACH-HBMC program through information sessions and personal interactions with the program coordinators. Atkinson built a strong connection with  Sonoo Thadaney Israni, HBCU Visiting Student and Faculty Exchange Program, Racial Equity to Advance a Community of Health (REACH) Initiative. Thadaney Israni exuded passion for the program and shared her vision for transforming the medical field.

“Stanford’s commitment to supporting students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with varying levels of research experience resonated with me,” Atkinson said. “When I listened to Sonoo describe the program, I could visualize myself being at Stanford and appreciated the emphasis on mentorship tailored to my goals.”

Similarly, Louis-Jacques felt a deeper connection to Stanford's program than other research opportunities because of the connections that the School of Medicine is able to provide. He recalls, “The program coordinators emphasized the support mentors would provide throughout the  8-week experience, including opportunities aligned with individual interests such as shadowing. I valued the exposure to various professionals who could guide me in my desired field of pediatrics.”

Atkinson shared that her primary interest lies in obstetrics and gynecology, specifically working to reduce maternal and fetal mortality rates and addressing health disparities among African American and undocumented women.

What drew me to OB/GYN, which I hope to do my residency in, was that I can see myself making the biggest impact in communities where the people look like me.

“What drew me to OB/GYN, which I hope to do my residency in, was that I can see myself making the biggest impact in communities where the people look like me,” Atkinson remarked noting the disproportionately high maternal mortality rate for Black women in the country. 

She aims to leverage her background in biostatistics to contribute to clinical research in these areas. Sponsored by the Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI), Atkinson was paired with Stephanie Leonard, PhD, Assistant Professor of the Dunlevie Maternal-Fetal Medicine Center, who is an epidemiologist focused on advancing equitable, positive health experiences and outcomes for pregnant individuals.

“I feel so fortunate to be paired with Jheanelle, who is leading a big data project on how race and ethnicity intersect in regard to disparities in hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. Her insights and creativity have brought our larger research program in a new, impactful direction.”

Louis-Jacques’ interest in pediatrics was driven by his desire to make a difference in the lives of children, particularly in Black and immigrant communities. He emphasized the need to address the early onset of health disparities by mitigating these issues through educating parents of infants and young children and later the adolescents themselves.

“My main goal is to open a clinic, and take care of the kids,” he notes. “I want to be in primary care because I want to build a long-lasting relationship of trust — also, with pediatrics, it is fun to see the kids grow into adults over time.”

Working with his mentor, Katherine Bianco, MD, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and sponsored by the Obstetrics and Gynecology department, he is supporting research on maternal congenital heart defects and infant outcomes. As his first foray into research, Louis-Jacques is excited to dive in and learn as much as he can about the research process in order to be fully informed about the latest treatments and updates on conditions that affect his future patients.

 “Because Karl-Stephane’s interest is in pediatrics, we have been working to demonstrate the importance of a multidisciplinary approach when a pregnancy is complicated with pre-existent maternal cardiac disease by born with the condition or acquired, at Stanford we have stablished a Maternal Heart Program where High risk Obstetricians partner with Cardiology, Anesthesia and Neonatology to optimize the maternal and neonatal outcomes. Therefore, I was greatly pleased when Karl-Stephane embraced the opportunity to further investigate neonatal outcomes in this very high risk population. ”

Day-to-day, you can find Atkinson and Louis-Jacques attending department and project meetings, participating in simulations, taking in panels on residency programs, and networking with faculty members aside from completing their research projects.

“We are grateful to REACH-HBMC for coordinating this summer research program, and to the Ob/Gyn Department and MCHRI for financially supporting these summer internships,” Leonard remarks. “It is through programs like REACH-HBMC that Stanford can become a stronger, more impactful intellectual community.”

Programs like the REACH-HBMC program help the medical field to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, which ultimately equates to higher quality patient care and more expansive clinical research.

Stanford Medicine’s Racial Equity to Advance a Community of Health (REACH) initiative aims to address health disparities, reduce inequities, and provide opportunities for underrepresented minority students to engage in research and clinical experiences. Learn more at the program’s website.