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A partnership between Greater Lansing’s leading educational and medical institutions has survived the global COVID-19 pandemic with one goal in mind: to diversify the healthcare industry.

Piloted within the diverse Lansing School District with the goal of training women of color to become the healthcare workers of tomorrow, Becoming Visible reintroduced itself earlier this month offering free sports physical exams on August 2. at Sexton High School.

High school and college students helped take vital signs for physical exams and knew that if they stuck to them, they could one day naturally help eliminate racial bias in health care.

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“The way we wanted to marry Becoming Visible with the free sports clinic was to have our girls volunteer to see community public health in action,” said Cheryl Celestin, Co-Chair of Becoming Visible.

Celestin, of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, and Loretta Osborn of Lansing Community College began becoming visible in 2018. They were inspired by a national initiative to bring girls of color into health care and brought together Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, Sparrow Health System and McLaren Greater Lansing to create the program for interested high school students.

About 200 black girls have attended the organization’s conferences since its inception. Becoming Visible hosted in-person conferences in 2018 and 2019 and moved to virtual events when the pandemic hit to explain pathways to becoming doctors and nurses.

“Because we have all seen the need to engage what we call underrepresented minorities and learn more about health, allied health and medical careers,” Celestin said. “And then to address issues around unconscious bias and health and well-being disparities.”

Monique Smith said her daughter Josie joined Becoming Visible to take a serious look at a career field that piques her interest. Josie, a freshman at East Lansing High School, recently volunteered at Sexton’s free sports physical event.

East Lansing High School freshman volunteer Josie Smith, right, talks with second-year medical student Ehita Oboh, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, during a clinic free sports physics at Sexton High School.  The Becoming Visible organization hosted the free sports physical exams as part of its mission to mentor young women of color interested in health care careers.

“She’s a newbie, a Jack and Jill teenager,” Smith said, citing one of the mentoring activities her daughter is involved in. Again.”

If Josie remains interested in becoming visible, she can join other participating high school students in wearing scrubs and donning medical gear.

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Becoming Visible has already impressed others concerned about the diversity of healthcare workers.

The Lansing School District plans to create a career and technical education program for the 2023-24 school year with the help of Becoming Visible, said Nicole Millsap, director of career and technical education for the district.

District officials did not share where the program will be placed.

“In this high school, we’re going to have three career paths if you will,” Millsap said. “So one of them will be skilled trades, manufacturing, and then the third will be health sciences, where this collaboration with Becoming Visible fits so perfectly.”

She added that students can form lasting connections with medical professionals that can prove beneficial in students’ personal lives, whether for health, personal or professional reasons.

The students told Millsap that they opened up to the medical professionals they met through Becoming Visible.

Jennifer Pusavat, a sophomore medical student at Michigan State University, takes the blood pressure of Sexton freshman Issa Nasibu on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, during a free sports physical clinic at Sexton High School.  The Becoming Visible organization hosted the free sports physical exams as part of its ongoing mission to mentor young women of color interested in healthcare careers.

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“Many students have let me know how important this representation is and that ‘I would never have considered a career in the medical field’ until this event or exposure or being connected to this person” , she said.

Sparrow and McLaren’s role in Becoming Visible fuels Millsap’s hopes that the school district may one day provide a diverse pool of candidates for two of the area’s largest healthcare providers.

According to the State Department of Health and Human Services Michigan Nurses Survey 2020, nearly 90% of employed registered nurses identified as white and 68% of licensed practical nurses identified as white.

“It helps young women of color achieve their aspirations to work in healthcare through events, outreach and mentorship programs,” said Lori Simon, Director of Diversity, Equity, inclusion and belonging at Sparrow.

Capital Area College Access Network has attended previous conferences to educate families about the cost of higher education and how to make it more affordable, Celestin said.

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Contact journalist Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.