While most middle and high school kids are still sleeping at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings, there are a group of about fifty students in upper Manhattan who are awake and learning about basic science, medicine, and health. These aspiring scientists and future medical professionals from the Washington Heights area are enrolled in the Lang Youth Medical Program (LYMP), a six-year longitudinal (from 7th through 12th grade) science enrichment, mentoring and internship program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center (NYP/CUMC).
The students, known as Lang Scholars, are selected when they are in sixth grade and agree to commit five hours every Saturday and four weeks of each summer to the program for the next six years of their lives. The commitment may seem daunting to an adult let alone any sixth grader but in return these students are given a tremendous
opportunity unavailable to their peers. They will meet weekly in small groups led by Columbia University medical, dental, graduate and college students, attend lectures given by physicians and surgeons at CUMC, observe surgeries, and even work in research laboratories. All of their experiences are geared toward the mission of the LYMP: to inspire, support and motivate young people from Washington Heights to realize their college and career aspirations, especially in the sciences.
The Lang Youth Medical Program began in 2003 and is named after the
philanthropist Eugene M. Lang (creator of the I Have a Dream Foundation), who personally challenged the hospital to start the program to offer health and science opportunities to the local Washington Heights students, whose schools are notoriously among the most educationally impoverished schools in the city. The significant lack of science programs in these under-resourced urban schools mirrors an unsettling trend across the US: that even though Blacks and Hispanics are the fastest growing population groups in the US, they are also the most likely to drop out of high school, the least likely to pursue advanced degrees (especially in the sciences, where although Blacks and Hispanics make up more than 25% of the US population, they are only 10% of the healthcare workforce). They also represent approximately 5.4% of all doctorate degrees in science and engineering. And it is exactly this educational gap that the LYMP attempts to bridge, at least in this upper Manhattan neighborhood.
“Nothing short of a flat-out crash program in hard science will turn these young students’ dreams of medical careers into real possibilities,” says Erin Roy, the initiative’s founder and director. She also emphasizes that, “the initiative nurtures in its participants a new identity as strivers ready to succeed.” By challenging the scholars to work harder and think on higher levels, Roy and her staff show the scholars that they can achieve their goals. They learn to engage in intellectual discussions with physicians and surgeons, build relationships with mentors in different areas of the health sciences, and bond with their peers while enjoying science and medicine. Theprogram does not create the excitement and love of science and education in these students, but rather it ensures that this fire in them is not allowed to be extinguished.