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Student-Made Documentary Chronicles Eight Diverse Students’ Journeys Through Medical School

“Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine: The Journey” follows members of the CU School of Medicine’s Class of 2024.

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Written by Greg Glasgow on June 11, 2024

Members of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Class of 2024 will have more than their memories to call on when looking back at their time in medical school. They also have a documentary, “Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine: The Journey,” created by four of their classmates. The film, released in May, follows eight students from diverse backgrounds through their four-year medical school journey, chronicling the highs and lows along the way.

“I wanted to create something with other classmates to create a legacy for ourselves that would highlight the importance of diversity in medicine and follow the creation of the next generation of physicians who are also from underrepresented backgrounds in medicine,” says Jeffrey Wong, MD, a Class of 2024 graduate who originally conceived of the project.

→Watch the trailer for “Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine: The Journey.”

Mental health and other challenges

A range of diversity is captured in the eight students the filmmakers chose to follow. They include a Korean American military veteran, a student from Alaska who has cerebral palsy, and the only two Black male students in the Class of 2024. Among the challenges the students confronted during their time in medical school were the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and a growing conversation around the importance of mental health. 

“Mental health was a big deal, especially during COVID,” says Ronald Yang, MD, a 2024 graduate and a member of the documentary team. “Our first year in medical school was mostly online, and we were discouraged from meeting up with other people. Students who didn’t have networks in Colorado, or they were moving here for the first time, it was very difficult for them to adjust. When things started to open up a little more, things got better. But new challenges arose in terms of mental health —we were progressing in our careers and things got more difficult; there were more tests and more expectations. I think mental health is not spoken about enough, so I’m glad we covered it.”

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The filmmakers pose after their documentary screening on campus in May. From left, Jeffrey Wong, MD, Ronald Yang, MD, Joy Huang, MD, and Weston Durland, MD.

The filmmakers followed the eight students from their first year all the way through Match Day on March 15, checking in with them at a few points each year to follow their progress. “Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine” includes footage of Halloween parties, club activities, and political protests, as well as multiple interviews that demonstrate just how grueling the medical school experience can be.

“Something I didn’t anticipate, when we first started filming, was how stressful and tiring these four years can be for people,” Wong says. “A lot of them are the leaders of their households or leaders of their family. There are a lot of outside circumstances affecting what’s going on in the classroom, and that impacts some people’s ability to stay in medical school or feel like they’re performing well. One thing I hope viewers take away from the film is that there are a lot of unforeseen obstacles in people’s lives.”

Building a team

Wong got the idea for the documentary after seeing a similar film that followed students from another medical school. He recruited Yang and Joy Huang, MD, another member of the Class of 2024, to serve as co-interviewers, and he enlisted another classmate — Weston Durland, MD, who has a filmmaking background — to help with camera work, editing, and the other technical aspects of the production.

“I was not one of the people who conducted the interviews,” Durland says. “I was running the camera and trying to help out. My focus was making sure we had good sound and good video and fixing technical problems as they arose.”

Through the editing process, Durland got a firsthand look at each of the student journeys the film chronicles.

“It was really interesting to see when someone thought they would go one direction, then ended up going completely the other direction,” he says. “It was nice to be able to follow people on that journey, where they’re a different person at the end of it than they were at the beginning.”

Compelling subjects

Bruck Gezahegn, MD, is one of the students featured in “Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine.” One of only two Black male students in the Class of 2024, he came to the CU School of Medicine from his home country of Ethiopia.

“I loved learning more about his journey and what he came into medicine wanting to do,” says Yang, who interviewed Gezahegn multiple times over the past four years. “His goal is to open hospitals in Ethiopia, and he is focused on issues such as the maternal genital cutting that occurs there. He wants to use his position in medicine to tackle those issues and support African American initiatives. I was so impressed by the fact that he was able to keep up with that goal throughout med school, and he’s now going into OB/GYN. As someone who interviewed him and also got to know him as a personal friend, it was very rewarding to be able to be part of that journey.”

Another interviewee, Lorena Ramirez, brought the perspective of a Latina woman to the documentary, Huang says. 

“It’s nice to highlight not only the hardships of being from an underrepresented background in medicine, but also the amazing qualities these people bring to the table,” Huang says. “Lorena spoke a lot about her background as a Latina woman growing up in Mexico and moving to Colorado. She grew up speaking Spanish, and she was able to do her clinical rotations at Denver Health and connect with the patient population that hospital serves. Being able to tell her story through the documentary highlights some of the positive aspects of being from a diverse background. A lot of the students we focused on bring that perspective.”

Rewarding experience 

The filmmakers hosted a screening of “Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine” on campus in May, just before graduation, but they have no other screenings planned at the moment. They are looking into options such as film festivals and streaming platforms as ways to get the documentary seen more widely.

Wherever the documentary is ultimately shown, its creators say the experience of making it was one of the most rewarding parts of their medical school journey.

“It was definitely a worthwhile thing to spend my time on during the four years of med school,” Huang says. “I learned a lot through this project, and working with these people has been a great experience. Having this film as a point of inspiration for future medical students and future physicians from underrepresented backgrounds is very worthwhile.”  

Yang echoes that, saying working on the documentary was a great way to get to know some of his fellow classmates.

“It also was an opportunity for me to help tell the stories of these very passionate people who are great in terms of supporting diversity and inclusion efforts on campus,” he says. “I hope we can inspire other future medical students who come from similar backgrounds.”

Featured image: Three of the medical students featured in "Diversity & Inclusion in Medicine: The Journey."

Topics: Community, Students