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Mentoring in Medicine’s mission is perfect for this year’s theme of Black History Month

February 28, 2022

Jailain Hollon

Jailain Hollon is the Marketing Associate at ExpandED Schools.

ExpandED Schools celebrates Black History Month, highlighting Black Americans’ significant contributions, achievements, and accomplishments throughout history.

This year’s Black History Month theme is Black Heath and Wellness. This theme celebrates the legacy of Black medical practitioners and scholars in western medicine. A Black health and wellness discussion allows us to address the mainstream healthcare system’s economic and health disparities. This year, ExpandED had the pleasure to do just that with renowned attending Physician of Emergency Medicine At Montefiore Health System, Dr. Lynne Holden.

Dr. Holden is not only a professor of Emergency Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, and she is also the President & Executive Director of Mentoring in Medicine. Mentoring in Medicine inspires and equips young people to become health care professionals through academic enrichment, leadership development, civic engagement and mentoring programs. ExpandED has been a proud partner of Mentoring in Medicine for years.

As the President & Executive Director of Mentoring in Medicine, Dr. Holden recently shared her thoughts on her journey on becoming a practicing physician mentoring others on the same journey.


As you know the theme of this year’s Black History Month is Health and Wellness, my first question is what played a role in your decision to become a doctor? And what was the biggest challenge for you in that process?

I have wanted to be a doctor since I was six years old. I used to watch a show called Marcus Welby MD, and I saw that Marcus Welby, the doctor who helped everyone who came through his office door, left everyone happy and smiling. Although it was very idealistic, I knew I wanted to help people at six years old, so there was never a question in my mind as to what I wanted to become. The question was, how am I going to become a doctor. No one in my family had been a doctor, but my aunt was a nurse who was very instrumental in this journey, but no one in my family pursued medicine, so they didn’t know the journey to medical school.

It wasn’t until my aunt introduced me to my mentor, Dr. Muriel Petioni, who took me under her wing at twelve years old until I was forty-nine. We had a role model relationship. As I started my journey to medical school, we developed a mentoring relationship. Then, as I finished medical school and started my residency, we developed a sponsorship relationship. She introduced me to her network and helped me advance, especially in Mentoring In Medicine, where she was one of the founding board members.

I think mentoring cannot be underestimated for students, and I believe it is essential for them to value mentoring, and all that mentors have to offer them.

What role has mentorship played in the development of your career?

Dr. Petioni was the first person I saw who was doing what I wanted to do. She saw patients, but she was also a community activist and very involved in her community. She was building bridges between people who were distant from each other. However, because of Mentoring In Medicine and other programs she designed, the community became close and they were able to become productive.

So, for example, she started helping people addicted to drugs at the time. She was able to help them get into rehab and then get back into society. Because of the program she designed, this woman was attending patients, and she was, in my eyes at the time, saving the world in Harlem. Dr. Petioni was known as the mother of medicine in Harlem. I was able to see myself in her, and she was always nurturing and saying, “come with me, learn from me, watch me, let’s talk about a cure, my friends they want you to be in their circle,” and I went to meet them, it was always a welcoming relationship.

How has the mentorship you’ve experienced in your career helped you in your current role as the President & Executive Director of Mentoring in Medicine?

I think that it’s important that people, especially students, realize that the journey in any career can be very long. You have to enjoy the ride along the way and all the activities. I am happy for all of my activities in the morning when I get ready and go to the hospital because I am excited to see what’s happening. I go to those board meetings in the morning because I know I have something to say that will help contribute to the organization’s mission. I think it’s essential that people realize that whatever your journey is, you really need to have joined in that process, and if you don’t, then maybe you’re not on the right track. There are plenty of journeys out there, but perhaps you need to discover which journey is out there for you.

What advice would you give to young people who aspire to become doctors? And what qualities do you think an effective mentor for Mentoring in Medicine? 

I would tell them, don’t stop. You’re going to hit stumbling blocks. There will be valleys, streets and roads but don’t stop and don’t hesitate to ask for help. I’m feeling on one side with students who are going through this journey and maybe experiencing difficulties. On the other side, I’m dealing with health professionals that want to help out.

I think that’s what a good mentor is someone willing to put their hand up and say, “I’m here to help, please ask me any questions, I’m going to give you feedback, I want you to listen to the feedback, but certainly, I’m here to help you succeed in your future.” That’s what I think is important in mentorship.

Sponsorship is the next level. When mentors say, “I’m invested in your future, I’m going to recommend you for this job because I’ve been working with you, and I’m going to put my name on the line for you.” There are layers to the mentorship tower, but we all strive to be sponsors for students, but not every student is there yet, so we have to help them along.

In your time with Mentoring in Medicine, has the medical field become more inclusive for Black doctors, especially Black Women?

I can say it has, but certainly, it’s not where I think we need to be. The American Medical Association would not allow African Americans to join in the sixties. Therefore, African Americans started an organization called the National Medical Association which now is the premier organization for African American physicians across the country.

Programs like Mentoring In Medicine work with students from elementary school through their careers. So we’re currently working with almost sixty students preparing to go to medical school, and that’s another phase of the journey, but being able to help almost five hundred students get into medical school over the years, who were told no, is a privilege.

What challenges come with the effort to help to increase the diversity of the healthcare workforce?   

The primary challenge is that it’s getting harder to apply to medical schools. For example, the test to get into medical school is seven and a half hours. If you don’t reach a specific threshold, no medical schools in the United States will consider your candidacy.

Students still have to pay to take the test, and if they don’t score a certain percentage on that test, their application may not be considered, which is before they get to an interview. Many of our students don’t know all of this, which can hinder them when they run up against these obstacles. We have to introduce the students to these concepts to understand what’s important because it’s that combination of knowledge that we get to medical school and realize people aren’t their test scores, interviews and applications.

In your role as a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, how do you empower the aspiring doctors you teach?

It’s very important. I’ve done studies, and the number one reason African American students do not pursue health careers is that they lack confidence. It’s important that our students, especially those who have undergone adverse childhood experiences and urban trauma, build their confidence. We empower them so that when they encounter microaggressions, they understand it, call it what it is, identify it, and have strategies for dealing with it.

These are important ways that we prepare students and expand their academic studies. It’s a holistic program because we work on their mindsets and academic-based civic commitments. We want to make sure that students encounter people who look like them doing what they want to do so they can see this is their future and another person went through the same path.

What is your hope for the goals of Mentoring In Medicine for the next generation of doctors and healthcare professionals?

My dream is that the students we are testing now will be leaders in the future. If they want to be in a leadership position, that’s great, but if they want to be a physician’s assistant or a nurse, my dream is that they address these health disparities.

I hope that the students we are training are the future of healthcare in this country. Not only in their communities but in this country, and we try to instill that in them so that they can continue pushing on despite obstacles in their way. They know that we’re here to help, and I think that’s important also to note that even if someone has your back there, they’re standing waiting for you to ask for help, and I think that that’s important.