Kickstarting Medical Careers

by May 20, 2020Education, North Brunswick

The new MLK Scholarship Fund helps remove financial barriers for high school seniors who want to pursue a medical career.

Brunswick County recently had its Community Health Assessment, and the checkup didn’t go so well. The county is designated as a Medically Underserved Area with too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty and a high elderly population. In fact, the county lags behind the state average in all healthcare professions (doctors, nurses, etc.) by 30 to 40 percent.

Three Brunswick County physicians — Drs. Sanjay Batish, Douglas Messina and David Snow — are doing something about it. They are addressing local healthcare workforce shortages and helping underserved, first-generation college students at the same time by establishing the MLK Health Professionals Scholarship.
“I came up with the idea after my son, who recently graduated from North Brunswick High School, shared with me his concerns that some of his fellow classmates were making educational decisions, or no educational decisions, because of financial obstacles,” says Dr. Batish of Batish Family Medicine.

Brunswick County is the fastest-growing county in North Carolina, and as the largest town in the county, Leland has experienced exponential growth — more than 60 percent in the last 20 years. As the population grows, the wealth of the majority of residents does not. Unfortunately, a third of all children in Leland live in poverty and are at risk for not pursuing or completing credentialed education programs. In fact, only 40 percent of students in the county pursue secondary education. There is a 33 percent drop-out rate of first-generation college students versus a 14 percent drop-out rate for students whose parents earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

For the past three years, Dr. Batish’s practice has been donating the income they generate on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to local organizations. The holiday is observed as “a day on, not a day off” and is designated as a national day of service to encourage Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. As Dr. Batish was mulling over the idea of how to help kids in the area further their education, he got the idea to use MLK Day of Service as an opportunity to kickstart a scholarship program. But he wanted it to be far larger than just his practice, and he also wanted to tie it to another need in the community — more healthcare providers.

Dr. Batish enlisted the help of other community leaders in healthcare, including Dr. Messina of Carolina Sports Medicine and Dr. Snow of Cape Fear Arthritis Care, to create the MLK Scholarship, which will aid two North Brunswick High School seniors who are planning to pursue degrees in healthcare. Students who plan to return to northern Brunswick County after completing their degrees will receive priority. On Monday, January 20, 2020, MLK day, the three participating medical practices donated their receipts to the first MLK Scholarship.

The inaugural MLK scholarship specifically focuses on students who want to pursue degrees in healthcare to help combat the health professional shortage in the county. “We already know that the proportion of providers doesn’t match the growth in the region,” Dr. Batish says.

Dr. Batish modeled the MLK scholarship idea around MedServe, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the health of medically underserved communities of North Carolina while giving future physicians a career path in primary care practice that inspires them to be life-long champions of health equity.

“It’s a subsection of AmeriCorps, and it helps kids who want to go to medial school work as active helpers in a medical capacity in underserved communities, and in turn they commit to do primary care in the area after they finish school,” Dr. Batish says. He was inspired by the organization’s mission after a medical student from Chapel Hill had a rotation at his office.

Medical school is expensive. Over a four year period, a medical student might expect to pay anywhere from $147,000 for in-state and public schools to more than $243,000 for out-of-state public schools. It’s no wonder that many students fail to complete their education. Ninety percent of Allied Health students require financial assistance.

One of the goals of the MLK Scholarship is to help remove the financial barrier for those talented high school students in Brunswick County who want to pursue a career in medicine. For this inaugural scholarship, two students will be selected.

“We are currently setting up the selection committees at each school, and the application process is being finalized,” Dr. Batish says. The application deadline will be late March, and awards will be handed out during a ceremony near the end of the school year.

“We want this to be a community event,” Dr. Batish says. “I hope it grows and that all local businesses get involved, as well as individuals, whether it’s MLK day or some other day.”

Can you contribute?
Donation levels include Platinum at $2,500, Gold at $1,000 and Silver at $500. But donations of any amount are appreciated. Donors can write checks payable to Brunswick County Schools c/o MLK Scholarship Fund and mail them to: 35 Referendum Drive NE, Bolivia, NC 28422.

Photography by Matt McGraw

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