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Black medical student named to IUPUI’s Elite 50

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Jamel Hill, a fourth-year medical student, has been recognized in the Elite 50 awards by Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis for his community work promoting health equity and Black representation in medicine.

Each year, IUPUI chooses graduate and professional students across all of its schools to highlight excellence in areas such as campus leadership, community engagement and scholarly work.

Hill was among 11 medical and Ph.D. students from IU’s School of Medicine to be recognized.

Hill recently landed a job as a resident physician of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Kentucky. Hill says he will use his passion and social awareness to serve the Black community wherever he goes. 

Part of Hill’s drive comes from his experience as a Black young man in Indianapolis.

“I think, for me, some of the disparities that we see today in terms of race with chronic conditions, such as … high numbers of hypertension in African Americans or higher stroke rates, or even high numbers of diabetes, all of that stuff is in my family,” Hill said. “And so it felt very familial, to want to help these people out who are suffering from these treatable chronic conditions.”

Hill and his colleagues routinely helped at community clinics doing blood pressure and blood sugar checks in underserved communities in Indianapolis.

He belongs to the Student National Medical Association, the oldest group of minority medical students and physicians. He became vice president of the IU chapter, which was named chapter of the year and executive board of the year thanks to its active role in the community. 

“That was a very proud moment and a great honor,” he said.

But being a Black man in medical school has not been easy. 

Hill said he had a lucky and nurturing upbringing, with supportive parents who valued education. But he was also exposed to disparities in accessing health care and education at an early age.

He had to take the medical school entrance exams three times and apply twice before he was accepted. “And I felt like in some of the resources that I really could have used to sort of prepare me, I was kind of learning how to make the wheel on my own, in some sense.” 

Being the only Black student in many lecture halls was a “rude awakening” for him. The stress of medical school — coupled with feelings of isolation and microaggressions he faced in the hospital — led Hill to take a three-month break from school.

“I wasn’t sleeping much. It was hard to concentrate,” he recalled. “And I eventually end up failing two exams back to back. So, I decided to seek mental health and start seeing a therapist. I was really able to kind of sort through some of my frustrations.”

Therapy, along with the support of his wife, Jasmine, helped him push through the rest of medical school with renewed tenacity and determination.

Hill was part of a small group of Black men in U.S. medical schools. About 8% of applicants are Black. And the percentage of male applicants identifying as Black has dropped slightly since 1978. 

Aware that he is part of a relatively small cohort, he has been engaged in several research projects addressing equity and representation issues. 

One study examined how medical schools and academic centers responded to the social unrest that followed the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The paper examined the role of the national Liaison Committee on Medical Education in holding medical schools accountable for promoting anti-racism as part of their curricula.

“And I did a really big research project … on the early African American physicians in Indianapolis around the late 1890s and early 1900s. I talked about their legacy,” Hill says. “But then the second half of the paper focused on the healthcare crisis that we have, in particular, with the dire situation of Black males in medicine.”

The Elite 50 recognition by IUPUI was due in part to these research projects and the active community role Hill has maintained while in school.

The award serves as a validation for Hill after years of hard work. More importantly, he said, being in the spotlight might inspire other Black young men and women to pursue their dreams.

“So it’s just really nice to be able to show people that they can do this, and everything that you need to be successful you already have,” Hill said.

This story was reported as part of a partnership between WFYI, Side Effects Public Media and the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact Farah Yousry at fyousry@wfyi.org or 857-285-0449. Follow her on Twitter @Farah_Yoursrym.

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