The LADDER – Building the next generation of healthcare providers in North Minneapolis

img 9979-1I asked Dr. Renee Crichlow to tell me about the Ladder. She is a physician at Broadway Family Medicine and professor at University of Minnesota School of Medicine and one of the founding members of the Ladder. Here is what she had to say.

Dr Winbush:
What is The Ladder?

Dr. Crichlow: “Our motto is ‘Lift as you climb, build as you grow’. The Ladder arises from the belief that we have within our community the ability to help each other develop to our fullest potential. The way that we do this is through encouraging one another. It is not about the adults ‘telling’ kids what to do. It is about creating an environment where we all can learn from each other. This is why the only title we use within Ladder is ‘scholar’. At The Ladder we are all scholars, working together to learn and support one another. At the meeting we all, no matter what age or level of achievement are addressed as medical scholars. At our meetings I am no longer Doctor Crichlow, I am Medical Scholar Renee. We are all equal and present to help each other grow. The Ladder members’ core principles are: ” a scholar reads, a scholar listens, a scholar teaches and a scholar learns”. To reinforce these principles at the beginning and end of each meeting we encourage each other to read (in addition to homework) at least 30 minutes every day to strengthen our brains.

img 9527One of the most important aspects of The Ladder is ‘progressive mentorship’ meaning every member is both a member and a mentor. We are responsible for doing our best as individuals and helping the others in The Ladder do their best. We are working to develop leaders. What does this look like? For instance, kids who are in middle school are encouraged to continue their efforts by older medical scholar mentors. High school students acknowledge the hard work the middle schoolers are doing. The middle schoolers also support each other with peer to peer praise and the same middle schoolers support and encourage the 4th and 5th graders to continue to make good choices. And this type of support continues, moving up the ladder. We are building a Ladder of support for one another.

img 0070Dr. Winbush: What happens at the Ladder?

Dr. Crichlow: The Ladder meets monthly, every second Saturday from 12:30 – 2:30 in the UROC Building located at the corner of Penn Ave. and Plymouth Ave. in North Minneapolis.

After a brief introduction, we start each meeting with a quote that will be the basis for discussion during lunch. For example, the April meeting the quote was an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far go together”. After introducing the quote the entire group divides into eating groups that are mixed by age. The groups eat lunch together (lunch is provided free of charge to all members), discuss what the proverb means to them and their goals and how the group can support them in their goals. In April when we discussed this quote beautiful stories emerged by scholars of all ages regarding how they felt about this quote and how helping each other would also help the individual succeed in the pursuit of their individual goals. One college student talked about how he used to study alone but found his grades were better once he had found a group of others and started studying with them. One younger scholar discussed how when hunting, animals that worked together were more successful. Everyone shared their experiences from their own level and helped each other learn from different perspectives. This is a big part of what The Ladder offers the members and is a time when they can check in with each other, celebrate their successes and receive support for their challenges.

img 9994After lunch and discussion time the groups rotate together through stations that are fun and hands-on learning experiences related to some aspect of the medical field. For instance, at the May meeting the monthly theme was the Brain and Reflexes. The scholars were able to test their reaction times to neurological input and learned how to be a first responder to someone who might be having a stroke. They also learned how to find very abnormal findings on CT scans and MRIs of the brain.

img 0107Dr. Winbush: Why would you try to teach students who are not in medical school these types of activities?

Dr. Crichlow: Well, a few reasons. First because it is interesting and challenging and fun. Second, because when it is taught in an approachable manner anyone can learn this level of medicine and third no one is doing this alone. Each of the younger scholars has many older scholars who are there to assist them and help them learn. If they run into something they don’t yet understand, they ask one of the older scholars and they work through it together as a team. This is an important quality to develop. If you want to be successful in a medical career we have to be able to open to learning, growing and teaching to and from each other. I will tell you that the younger scholars do learn surprising things. For instance, at our April meeting we had a visiting Sports Medicine doctor holding up an x-ray of a shoulder and he asked the group what was wrong in the x ray. He was expecting one of the many medical students to speak up, but one of the seventh graders stood up and pointed out the shoulder separation injury on the x-ray. This impressed the visiting doctor a great deal and he has already told this story multiple times since.

img 0053This type of challenge helps build confidence, the focus on growing and learning being more important than knowing is also a critical factor with The Ladder. We want to help all of our scholars to understand that to be successful and happy we must open ourselves to lifelong learning. We create a safe environment to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I want to learn’. At The Ladder all of us are always learning.

One of our younger scholars Christopher Allen recently wrote to me and said the following:

“The Ladder can help. They are NOT QUITTERS. If you keep coming to The Ladder every second Saturday of the month…you can trust all the people. You are just steps away to conquering your dreams in life. I also joined the Ladder because my dream goal is to be a gastroenterologist. With the help of Dr. Crichlow and other Ladder members I will learn more than is normal. I will be strong. I will dream big but start small. I have a great future ahead of me. With the help of The Ladder that future will be bright.”

We are all very proud of Christopher. This is exactly the kind of character we are looking to develop in our members: the confidence to walk your path, to pursue your dreams and to feel supported in your efforts.

img 0129Dr Winbush: Who attends the Ladder?

Dr. Crichlow: Anyone age 9 and up who has an interest in a health career who either lives, goes to school, or works in North Minneapolis or has family that lives or works in North Minneapolis. Also, any person in a healthcare career who is interested in helping and participating as a mentor/scholar is welcome. We have all types of scholars and most of the students are African-American or Hmong.

img 8693Dr Winbush: The Ladder has been around for 10 months now. Where do you see challenges and what do you see as its future?

Dr. Crichlow: We are in this for the long run and will always be building The Ladder. Our current challenge is recruiting mentors and scholars at the High School level. This is a win-win situation for high schoolers interested in going to college even if it is not in a healthcare career. This is an opportunity for them to mentor younger students. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota I know that this is exactly the type of activity that looks very good on an application for college. I would recommend parents and teachers who know of high schoolers who could be potential mentors in The Ladder, to encourage their students to at least come and experience The Ladder. Students who participate consistently may receive letters of recommendation and career counselling from me and other University faculty members who are members of The Ladder.

“As for the future of The Ladder, we are partnering with the Urban AHEC at The UROC and I see our future as an expanding and exciting organization that is a pipeline of support for those interested in any healthcare career or even just building a good application for college. We are committed to North Minneapolis and to each other. “Lift as you climb, build as you grow”. Please check us out at “

img 9455Dr. Nicole Winbush is also one of the founding physicians of The Ladder and you can join her and other members every second Saturday at the UROC building at 2001 Plymouth Ave. N. from 12:30-2:30 pm. There is free lunch and hands-on fun! UROC is located on bus routes 19, 32 and 7.

June 4, 2013
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