The David Geffen Medical Scholarships promises a debt-reduced education, drawing a special breed of students to UCLA to create a cadre of physicians with the vision and leadership to alter the future course of medicine.
William Sheppard, Jr. is a student at one of the world’s most prestigious medical schools, but when he asks his own family members if he can check their blood pressure, they don’t want any part of it. “They don’t trust medicine at all,” says the first-year student in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Even if I were to find something, they wouldn’t go to the doctor; they’d rather not know.”
Sheppard grew up in an underserved African American community in South Los Angeles. For many of the members of his family, particularly the older males, distrust of medicine is a legacy that stems from years of racism and injustices such as the infamous Tuskegee study — in which impoverished rural African American men who thought they were receiving free healthcare from the federal government instead were being studied to examine the untreated progression of syphilis.
Beyond not seeking treatment for anything but the most serious ailments, the distrust has contributed to a lack of awareness about chronic conditions such as diabetes or about the importance of preventive care. And it’s not just a problem within Sheppard’s family. “When I go to church, I see people who know they have diabetes but don’t really understand why that is,” he says. “They eat the food around them, which typically is fast food, and they don’t realize the importance of taking their medications. It becomes a downward spiral.”