New M.D. program to help boost diversity

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By Ariyana Griffin 

Contributing Writer

WILLOWBROOK — The first group of four-year doctor of medicine degree students at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science attended their first day of classes July 10.

The new program is set to be a pathway to increase diversity in the medical field as well as to provide opportunities among diverse groups of students. The 60 students are from all over the country and include a few international students. 

About half of the students are Black and nearly a quarter are Latino. The average age of students is 27 years old, with the oldest being 44 and the youngest being 20, according to the university. 

Located on 120th Street between Compton and Wilmington avenues, the university was founded in 1966 in the wake of the Watts Riots. With a mission to address health care disparities in South Los Angeles, Drew University has facilitated its medical program in collaboration with UCLA for the last 40 years. Previously, students would complete two years at UCLA and then complete two years of clinical work at Drew University. Now, for the first time, students can solely attend Drew. Last October, the institution was approved for accreditation of the four-year program. 

Abdelkader Awad, a native of Rammun, a Palestinian town, explained that his first introduction to Drew University was through his undergrad experience at UCLA’s medical education program. 

“I met a couple students, they’re actually my mentors from the program,” he said. “They always spoke about how a close-knit community it is and the mission of Charles Drew to send physicians into areas of shortage,” he said. “Currently, I’m in Riverside and there’s a shortage of physicians, and I think and believe that CDU will equip me with the tools necessary to serve in that area.”

Charles Drew University is one of four historically Black colleges and universities to offer medical doctor programs. The others are Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College and Morehouse School of Medicine. 

Drew University is the only medical degree program offered at a historically Black institution west of the Mississippi River. It is also  a charter member of the Hispanic Serving Health Professions Schools and a Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities charter member.

Of the 60 students in the first class of students, three attended King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, which is adjacent to Drew University. 

Toobenna Obi, a 2014 graduate of the high school, explained that the school had several programs to help integrate students and allow them to get exposure in the medical field. The Carson native graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

“They had this program called the hospital program, and my site was actually Martin Luther King Community Hospital across the street,” he said. “The program would take students one day out of the week for a few hours, and send them to different hospitals. 

“We would just shadow different professions from doctors to nurses to even health administrators,” he added. “It was just a full circle moment to be able to come here and train to be a physician right where I started in high school.”

The first day consisted of students introducing themselves, a panel discussion with course directors, and a history lesson on the institution and its mission statement to prepare the students for the next four years. 

“The beauty of this program is that the students are taught here all four years,” said Dr. Regina Offodile, the associate dean of student affairs at the College of Medicine. “Their whole experience is in the community. They interact with other students from the community because CDU has multiple programs.

“It is important that the students who come from marginalized underserved populations have an opportunity to become well educated in the field of medicine and go out and do residencies in a multitude of programs, from family medicine to surgery, to neurosurgery, to psychiatry,” she added. 

Sylvia Drew Ivie, daughter of Dr. Charles Drew and a senior special assistant to the president for community affairs,  shared the history and a few stories of her father with the students. 

“I’m thrilled that CDU had the opportunity to keep going from our very very humble beginning until this point today,” she said. “I’m proud of the community and I’m proud of the staff here for making it happen.”

To learn more about the program and other programs that Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science offers, go to 

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