Crafting Virtual Mentoring Experiences in Medicine for Birmingham-Area Youth

By Jasmine E. Crenshaw

His Project Origins

During his freshman year of college, Jean Paul Osula mentored local high school students, teaching them valuable tools and practices that would help them along their educational journeys. Through this experience, the second-year UAB School of Medicine student was inspired to create a similar mentoring program for his Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project that would provide Birmingham-area high school students with unique career exposure opportunities in the field of medicine. In his search for a community partner for his Fellowship project, he ran into a snag. Many organizations he approached wanted him to continue already-established programs, while Jean Paul wanted to build his own. The Birmingham Education Foundation (BEF)  ultimately provided the 2020 Fellow with what he needed in a site partner. The organization was supportive of Jean Paul creating his own project, and also had a long-standing relationship with the Birmingham City Schools system, which is the student population he wanted to work with. 

Providing Virtual Mentoring Experiences

In partnership with the Birmingham Education Foundation, Jean Paul’s project delivers both college preparation and career exposure opportunities to Birmingham City School students. Within the project, he (1) utilizes a research-based curriculum to provide students lessons and tools on ACT prep, college exploration, and goal creation, and (2) supplies students with various career exposure and mentoring opportunities in the medical field. With plans to originally conduct the project within the students’ classrooms, Jean Paul shifted his program online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this shift, he anticipates providing his students with more virtual career exposure opportunities. He recently helped host a virtual Career Spotlight session on the field of surgery with the School of Medicine and the BEF, where his students could interact with a local surgeon and ask him questions. With this new online programming, Jean Paul is challenged to keep students engaged week to week. So to combat the issue, he incentivized participation in the program, meaning with every session the students attend, the more incentives they can receive.

2020 Alabama Schweitzer Fellow Jean Paul Osula speaks to his students about his experiences in the field of medicine.

Reflecting on His Own Mentoring Experiences

When asked about his most impactful mentoring experience, Jean Paul recalled a time from his first week of college where he met a senior student that he wanted to model his college career after. During many exchanges, the student answered all of Jean Paul’s questions about his college and career experiences. According to Jean Paul, the biggest impact this student had on him was that he “was simply encouraging me along the way as I set out to accomplish goals that I set in healthcare and life”. This mentoring experience informed both Jean Paul’s ASF project and current work at the UAB School of Medicine. Jean Paul’s mentoring and career exposure program and others like it have been proven effective for students, especially for those of color. “There are many advantages of early career exposure and mentoring such as guidance and motivation to reach the level of the professions that are observed during the program”, Jean Paul acknowledged. Through the mentoring and college prep opportunities, he hopes by the project’s end that his students will gain a possible interest in a career in medicine and accomplish their goals set forth in the program.  

Of course, Jean Paul’s students are not the only ones who have learned from this experience so far. Through the Fellowship, Jean Paul has learned how effective reflection can be when it comes to his interactions with both his program students and his patients. “I am now able to always review my patient interactions and talking to others in order to improve my ability to communicate effectively with the patient… I reflect over my mentoring sessions so that I can be a better communicator to the students with each session”, Jean Paul noted.