Dominique Earland (ΦBK, Southern Methodist University) is currently in her first year of medical school training at the University of Minnesota. She plans to pursue clinical epidemiology research and become a physician who serves vulnerable populations. During her time as an undergraduate at SMU, Earland focused on strengthening women’s health rights and education through her academic and service work.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a child, I enjoyed community service and independent projects. I was involved in Girl Scouts at a young age, which exposed me to different types of careers related to science. In middle school, I applied to a pipeline program for underrepresented minorities in STEM, which emphasized the physician scientist career path. Each summer I took additional coursework and conducted basic research. We received one-on-one mentorship from clinicians, scientists, and physician scientists who successfully matriculated in the program. The program was an opportunity to gain a sense of belonging in medical and academic research centers, and offered me a community of like-minded peers who provided support and encouragement. I am very grateful for the program and community of mentors, peers, and educators that gave me an opportunity to imagine and pursue a career as a physician scientist.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
The course Politics and Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, taught by my late professor Dennis Simon, included a week-long Civil Rights Pilgrimage from Texas to Alabama
. We learned from foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement whose sacrifices culminated into social and political change. During night-class once a week, our professor transformed historic landmarks and Supreme Court cases into lively stages of political theater that movement members used to awaken American consciousness. The pilgrimage left me with a sense of responsibility to educate students about the American history that is often excluded from classrooms. I engaged with community members in Selma, Alabama and developed a service-learning trip for the following winter break. The trip encouraged participants to grapple with early education disparities as we served alongside the McRay Early Learning Center and Edmundite Missions. I led discussions with participants and Selma community members to connect the legacy of Civil Rights to early education disparities. I also witnessed firsthand the realities of rural poverty thanks to my work with the Edmundite Missions Meals on Wheels program. For many of the recipients, the hot meal and two milks was the only food they received each day due to medical, financial, and mobility constraints. Professor Simon, the foot soldiers, and the martyrs of the Civil Rights movement not only influenced our service learning trip participants, but continue to shape my interests in the legacy of civil rights in health disparities. The pilgrimage is now open to community members, more information about the trip and the application process can be found here
As a student at SMU, you focused on strengthening women’s health rights and education through your academic and service work. What drew you to this focus on women’s health?
Several human rights and biomedical anthropology courses helped me understand the social and political history of women in the US and abroad. I completed a global health research project focused on anemia in pregnancy in Western Jamaica which determined that anemia in pregnancy was associated with lower socioeconomic status and education levels. After returning from Jamaica, I wanted to learn about women’s health disparities in my own community. I received a Human Rights community outreach fellowship and a Hamilton undergraduate research grant to explore maternal child health disparities. I partnered with the Dallas Fetal Infant Mortality Review to understand barriers to care for underserved populations. The Maternal Child health toolkit sought to address the challenges women of color experience, specifically Black, Latinx, and undocumented populations that are not traditionally centered in interventions. I also conducted sociology research to explore the impact of residential segregation on birth outcomes. Through my research, I learned that interventions that uplift the strengths in the community, can improve health outcomes for under-resourced communities. In both the global and local contexts of my research, I learned that social constructs diminish the potential of women and create health disparities that can continue for generations. I believe women deserve to be the focus of research and medicine as they are the backbone of our families, communities, and society.
During your graduate school tenure at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, you also served as a mentor for resilient youth from Baltimore city in the CURE Scholars Program. How did you become involved with the program, and what was your favorite experience with your mentees?
I first learned about the program during my interview for the Post Baccalaureate program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. I instantly knew that I would be involved in the program, especially because it was a pipeline program similar the one that fostered my interest in STEM. The UMB CURE Scholars Program was a chance for me to pay all the opportunities and mentorship I received forward to the next generation of STEM professionals. I volunteered twice a week after work to help local Baltimore youth with STEM projects. My two mentees, Mali and Levan, were in sixth grade at the time. They spent three days a week during the school year and a significant portion of their summers involved in CURE activities. They have coded robots, presented cancer research posters at science expos to judges, and have advocated to state representatives in Annapolis, MD. The most rewarding aspect was becoming part of a community made up of the scholars, their families, and the teachers that worked hard to make the program a success. Every single child in the CURE Scholars program worked very hard to be a good student and a compassionate friend. At times we place unjustified labels on our youth and do not take the time to listen to their point of view. My time in the CURE program demonstrated that providing spaces of support enable youth to flourish, as they already possess their greatness. I continue to serve as a mentor to students interested in STEM.
What role has your liberal arts education played in the development of your career? Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded arts and sciences education are important in today’s society?
I would not be interested in medicine without my liberal arts education. The large public health dilemmas that intrigue me cannot be solved with a single perspective, but rather require interdisciplinary teams to develop equitable solutions. My biology background prepared me for the rigor of medical and basic science coursework, but the course work rarely gives you a framework for how everyday people experience a disease, or a means to understand all the non-biological factors that may contribute to it. The social determinants of health demonstrate how our zip code can shape our health far beyond the impact of a physician. Phi Beta Kappa and others that support interdisciplinary education are fostering the next generation of problem solvers that can resolve multifactorial problems; all the while encouraging collaboration and dialogue amongst diverse perspectives. At this point in time, institutions beyond the healthcare system must make an investment in population health and a well-rounded education in arts and sciences is required for this necessary innovation.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
My best advice I have ever received was from my great-aunt, my great grandmother’s sister. She is filled with wisdom, but her most impactful advice is that everyone has their own path through the phases of life. There will be moments when you will feel validated that you are on track, and more times than not you will feel concerned about your place in the world. As you make your way, be confident in your decisions and learn from your choices- these lessons will direct you. It has been difficult to feel included in every room I enter and imposter syndrome has been a challenge over the years, but when I doubt myself, I reflect on her words and experiences. I hope these words can inspire others that may feel excluded to continue pursuing their passions.
What books are you currently reading, or what podcasts or other media do you like to recommend?
Phi Beta Kappa's motto is "the love of learning is the guide of life." What do you want to learn next?
Since I began medical school, I have become interested in the integration of diversity and inclusion into medical education. Minneapolis is a diverse community with rich influences from indigenous groups and immigrant populations. This offers an amazing opportunity to learn how to engage and serve these populations in my community. I would like to learn more about their history in the Twin Cities and how it continues to shape disparities in the community. I believe health professionals, especially doctors, have many privileges in society that must be used to make our world more equitable. Over these next years in school, I hope to gather skills that will enable me to meet these communities where they are and understand their strengths and challenges. Ultimately, I want to be a better member of my community - something we can all try to achieve daily.