A group of high-achieving black high school students exemplified the value of an innovative program started 17 years ago by Leroy A. Reece, MD, an assistant professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and obstetrician/gynecologist at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The students attended the closing celebration for the 17th annual MITHS program, which was held July 14 in the Wong Kerlee International Conference Center on the university campus. The acronym stands for minority introduction to the health sciences.

The MITHS program brings selected black Seventh-day Adventist high school students to the campus of Loma Linda University the summer after their junior year for three weeks of intensive classes designed to provide specialized training in medical and health careers as well as bolster their overall academic performance and study habits.

Whether measured in anecdotal testimony or cold, hard statistics, the same glowing picture of incredible, unprecedented success emerged from the event.

The student presentations were nothing if not dazzling. One after another, the newest graduates of the three-week academic prep course rose to sing the praises of the program and share very individualized stories of how it had permanently reset their goals for the future.

One thing that impressed the student speakers was a trio of 17s connected with the event. This was the 17th annual MITHS program, there were exactly 17 participants this year, and all 17 of them are scheduled to graduate in 2017. The only non-alignment with the 17s was a singing group composed of seven female members of the group, who performed a beautiful a cappella song after announcing their name as The Summer of ’16.

Jasmine Thornhill, a 16-year-old student from Oakwood Adventist Academy in Huntsville, Alabama, was a member of The Summer of ‘16. Thornhill said she had been influenced to apply to the MITHS program by the annual visits to her school of Ricardo J. Whyte, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, as well as members of her family and friends who participated in the program in previous years.

Thornhill says she was very impressed by the program. “To me, the level at which the students improved their reading speeds was unfathomable,” she exclaims. Thornhill added that the program helped her explore new interests and options as she prepares to pursue a career in medicine.

After attending a presentation by a representative of the School of Religion, Thornhill says she was convinced to add a master’s degree in bioethics to her “must-have degree list.” She adds that, “I am seriously considering pursuing an MD/PhD degree because of the encouragement of Dr. Wright, one of our anatomy and physiology teachers.” Kenneth Wright, PhD, is an associate professor at the School of Medicine.

“One of the unanimous highlights of the trip was the visit to the surgical center,” Thornhill continues. “We each took turns using the Da Vinci surgical robot, and saw a hiatal hernia repair surgery performed by a surgeon using the robot.” Other MITHS student participants remarked that they enjoyed learning to suture wounds by practicing on vegetarian hot dogs during the program.

Thornhill concluded by saying that while the program is rigorous and that homework takes a lot of time and effort every night, she feels better prepared to finish her senior year strong and to face the challenges of undergraduate education and medical school as a result of participating in MITHS.  

While statistics are sometimes considered a bit boring or uninteresting, the ones presented at this event were just the opposite. In his presentation, David Conkerite, II, program manager for the department of human resource management at Loma Linda University Health, reviewed the findings of his review of the first 10 years of the MITHS program.

Using data gathered from 1999 to 2008, Conkerite demonstrated that the total number of participants per year have ranged from 15 in 1999 to 21 in 2008. Altogether, there were a total of 175 participants during those years. Although not included in Conkerite’s analysis, the 17 MITHS participants this year fell somewhere in the middle.

When Conkerite presented his next statistics, gasps and other expressions of shocked approval rose from all over the room. Using a simple pie chart, he showed that of the 175 MITHS graduates from 1999 to 2008, an amazing ninety-nine percent (99%) of them had received a college degree. The effect on the room was spellbinding!

The next slide also employed the pie chart to demonstrate that of the ninety-nine percent who received a college degree, sixty-six percent (66%) had majored in a health science discipline and thirty-four percent (34%) had not.

Conkerite went on to report that of the ninety-nine percent who had graduated with a  college degree, thirty-three percent (33%) had gone on to receive a graduate degree (sometimes also called a postgraduate degree), and that of that group, fifty-five percent (55%) got their degree in a health science discipline.

The statistics continued to impress. Conkerite also reported that forty-five percent (45%) of the ninety-nine percent of the MITHS participants who graduated college had received a doctoral degree, that thirty-two percent (32%) received a masters degree, and twenty-three percent (23%) received an undergraduate degree.

Before showing the final slide in his presentation, Conkerite displayed a bar graph that showed what types of degrees the 58 MITHS participants from 1999 to 2008 who had received a doctoral degree had earned. The numbers break down as follows:

  • MD degree               29
  • PhD degree                     8
  • DDS degree                 7
  • DPT degree                 3
  • JD degree                              3
  • PsyD degree               3
  • PharmD degree        2
  • DHSc degree             1
  • DNP degree               1
  • AuD degree               1

At the end of his presentation, Conkerite motioned in the direction of Reece, citing the MITHS founder’s innovation, determination, and faith as driving factors in the success of the program and in encouraging so many young black students to a lifetime of excellence and achievement.

The crowd responded by rising to its collective feet and affirming the humble giant for the vision and dedication that led to the amazing success of the MITHS program.

As the applause subsided, Keith R. Doram, MD, MBA, FACP, vice president for medical affairs at Adventist Health, delivered the keynote speech and commended the participants for their hard work and diligence. He encouraged them to believe that little things, like getting enough sleep at night and learning to focus on positive thoughts, can make big contributions to their future success.