Dr. Vanessa Spearman (MD '05)
Paying it Forward
SEEPS Mentors Lay Groundwork for Future Clinicians
Daphney Joseph raises her eyebrows and opens her eyes wide, intently watching the numbers creep up as she takes Julia Waller’s blood pressure. As she hesitantly calls out her patient’s pressure, she gets a round of applause.
“You’ve got your first blood pressure,” cheers Dr. Vanessa Spearman (MCG ’05). Daphney smiles, her body relaxes and she sighs in relief.
“We don’t usually teach this until the second year of medical school,” Spearman tells her, “so you’re ahead of the game.”
The atmosphere in the exam room is electric as the women alternate taking each other’s vitals—procedures they’ve only watched doctors do, but hope will be second nature one day when they’re physicians themselves.
Daphney, a senior at the University of Georgia, and Julia, a junior at Georgia Southern University, were 2012 participants in GHSU’s Student Educational Enrichment Program, or SEEP. The seven-week summer program prepares high school and college students from backgrounds under-represented in medicine for careers in the health sciences. Through the program’s clinical mentoring component, Daphney and Julia shadowed Spearman, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Psychiatry, for several hours every Thursday.
Spearman’s pager buzzes and the trio heads to the emergency room to consult with a new patient. She leads the way in her long, white physician’s coat, while her mentees follow in short white coats similar to those worn by medical students.
“They’re a part of my team when they’re shadowing me, and I wanted them to wear the white coats to help them integrate into that team seamlessly,” Spearman says.
Julia felt the team spirit as Spearman introduced her and Daphney to patients. “We really were able to listen to and interact with her patients,” Julia says, remembering one patient they consulted with for more than two hours. “Dr. Spearman was completely compassionate and supportive. Her drive is inspiring and it made me love medicine even more.”
Spearman knows firsthand how SEEP can help mold the careers of these young women. “SEEP is a part of my family legacy,” she explains. When the program was initiated in 1970, her father, Dr. Ronald Spearman (MCG ’74), was one of its first student moderators, along with Dr. Joseph Hobbs (MCG ’74), Chair of the Department of Family Medicine.
So naturally, the summer after her freshman year at Spelman College, Spearman participated in SEEP herself.
“It was a unique experience, and I wouldn’t change going to SEEP for anything,” she says. “When I came to MCG, I felt like I already knew a lot of other students and faculty, which was helpful.”
She shadowed Dr. Vincent Robinson, Professor of Cardiology, who instilled in her the desire to volunteer her time and pay forward the same experience she received to future generations.
When Spearman joined the MCG faculty in 2010 after completing a residency at the Medical University of South Carolina, she immediately sought ways to mentor through the MCG Office of Diversity Affairs, which oversees SEEP.
“I grew up with a physician dad, a dentist mom and many surrogate aunts and uncles in medicine, so medicine has always been a part of my life. But a lot of young people don’t have that experience, and I want to give them the opportunity to have that exposure in a low stress environment,” Spearman says.
It was important to Spearman to have a mentor of her own race to look up to, and that’s one reason she volunteers with SEEP. “It does make a difference, because if you don’t see someone who looks like you, sometimes you can get discouraged. If I can eliminate that risk for another person, that’s my goal,” he says.
This summer, Spearman was one of 48 GHSU faculty members who volunteered as clinical mentors for SEEP. Collectively, the group gives about 2,500 hours annually to mentor a group of students who might not otherwise get the chance.
Written by Paula Hinley