GARY | Dr. Michael McGee says he grew up in "every project in Gary." He got good grades in school but didn't do a lot of preparation for a career in medicine. He wished he'd had a mentor who could have steered him into the right academic programs and extracurricular activities.
Now that he's the medical director for emergency services at Methodist Hospitals in his native Northwest Indiana, he wants to put local students interested in medicine on the fast track to a career in health care. Through his anti-violence foundation, Project Outreach and Prevention on Violence, he recently started providing mentoring and financial support for inner-city teens who want to work in the medical field.
"You may be smart, but you may not know how to be a doctor or a nurse or another health professional," McGee said. "We're giving kids an opportunity to get exposure to that."
McGee started POP in 2008 to stem the tide of teen violence in his hometown. He would give anti-violence presentations to local schools and youth organizations. He eventually realized that proselytizing would only go so far, that to truly make a difference he would need to introduce the youngsters to positive minority role models who weren't "athletes or rappers."
He also recognized that because of the poor education systems in many inner cities, African-Americans and Hispanics are still vastly underrepresented in the medical profession. So he would bring health-care workers to talk to at-risk kids. Then this year, he took it a step further, by offering one-on-one guidance and scholarships to underserved students.
"Who knows who we may impress enough to say, 'I want to become a doctor now?' " McGee said.
Alize Sims, who just graduated from Gary's West Side Leadership Academy, became the first student to be mentored through the program. Sims, who has been shadowing McGee and trauma surgeon Reuben Rutland this summer, hopes to become a heart-and-lung surgeon. She plans to attend Xavier University of Louisiana in the fall to study pre-med.
"Dr. McGee emphasizes paying attention to different things the patients say and getting comfortable with the patients, so you can figure out what's going on with them," said Sims, 18. "He's really big into the investigative part of medicine."
The POP foundation recently created the Azrie Kinsey Merit Health Scholarship, which is for graduating minority high-school students with financial hardships majoring in pre-med or nursing. The scholarship is named after McGee's deceased mother, who was a nurse at Gary Methodist for more than 30 years.
Sims, the first recipient, will receive $1,000 for books and supplies for college. She believes POP's efforts can have a big impact on the community.
"Going to school here, a lot of people don't know what they want to do. They're not worried about going to college. They just want to hang out and mess around," she said.
"If you find something you want to do -- it doesn't have to be medicine, it can be sports or business or something like that -- that can easily keep you out of trouble."