Women Pursuing a Career in Medicine: Highlights on the Prostate Cancer Foundation Scientific Retreat - Alicia Morgans

January 10, 2020

Kamari Collins, Laila Williams, and Valerie Martinez from San Diego High School join Alicia Morgans at the 26th Annual Prostate Cancer Foundation Scientific Retreat (PCF 2019) to share their visions for their own futures based upon their experiences as a part of the science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program at MedTech Academy in San Diego, California. 

These three dedicated young women share their motivations behind choosing STEM to guide and educate their career goals These are three of several female students who attended the PCF2019 retreat,  The PCF is an invitation-only conference and is one of the foremost leading scientific conferences in the world on the biology and treatment of prostate cancer. The PCF Women in Science Forum is a career exchange for medical oncologists, urologists and researchers in conjunction with the annual Scientific Retreat, open to all attendees at the PCF Scientific Retreat. You hear insights from three impressive young women representing the future of women in science.


Kamari Collins, Laila Williams, and Valerie Martinez, Students - San Diego High School

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.

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Alicia Morgans: Hi. I am so excited today to be joined by three young women from San Diego High School, where they are working with teacher Kate O'Connor and the MedTech Academy to really enhance STEM for both women and men in their high school program. The reason I mentioned women and men is because we here at the Prostate Cancer Foundation have a specific women's symposium in the morning at the start of the meeting each year for the last four years, and young women like these three have joined us for the last three. Because the PCF really is trying to encourage not just women in science to engage around prostate cancer research, but women even before they are official scientists to engage. So thrilled to have these young women in training in their STEM program. Let's hear from them. Can each of you just introduce yourselves and let everyone know?

Kamari Collins: All right, thank you. First of all, just thank you for having all of us. We're really appreciative of everything you guys have done for us as a whole foundation. My name is Kamari Collins. The reason why I joined the MedTech Academy was to further my education into the career that I wanted to be going into. It's very hard for women of color, like all of us, to have an opportunity to start at an early age and gain access, education, resources. This program really helps us to have everything, all of our opportunities, everything that we need to help us further our education.

Alicia Morgans: You're certainly doing a good job. Thank you for joining us.

Laila Williams: My name is Laila. Main reason I decided to go join the MedTech Academy is because I saw the need in my community for black women and the OB/GYN field. I did my research and I found out that our infant mortality rates are significantly higher than other ethnicities, and I was like why is that? So I decided that I want to become an OB/GYN to address that issue, and the MedTech Academy is the best place for me to do it.

Alicia Morgans: It's the first step, and you're going to have a long road ahead of you. I am excited for your-

Laila Williams: Thank you.

Alicia Morgans: ... passion and to see where you go. Yes?

Valerie Martinez: My name is Valerie Martinez. The reason I joined the MedTech Academy was mainly because my love for helping children. Being in the Academy the past four years, my career choices have just completely differed all the time because we get opportunities like this, to come and meet women who do things and are like, well you know, we wanted to do this, but we actually changed our mind. So, it's kind of relieving, I'd say, to be able to know that your road doesn't need to be concrete and that you can just do anything along the way.

Alicia Morgans: Yeah, I think to emphasize you can do anything, it is a long road. That's why I say I'm excited to see where you'll go. You want to be an OB/GYN now, and perhaps after you conquer this issue of infant mortality, you'll move on to be a brain surgeon. Who knows? But, it's really exciting to see that you are so passionate. What do you want to do? Where do you want to be as you move forward?

Kamari Collins: I actually want to be a physical therapist. My mom specializes in head and neck surgery, so I have a different path from her. Being in this program has made me realize I want to help people who are in need, but rehabilitation. When they've had to conquer something in their life and I want to help them rehabilitate, get back to what they had before. And I feel like physical therapy is one of those career paths that I can use to really just help others in any way possible.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely. You know, sometimes illnesses of all kinds can just take us off track. Physical therapists are there to help us take those last steps to getting back to normal, which is what we want for everybody, to live the lives that they were meant to lead instead of being held up with these illnesses that they may have. You are clearly three very engaged young women. How have you found the program? What are the things that you feel you've gotten out of it that are going to help you get to the next steps?

Valerie Martinez: I'd say mainly just we've gotten so many things that all of us are really extremely grateful for, like mentorships. Most of the time when people think of the medical field, they think doctors and nurses, but they're ... What was Miss Clara's mentorship? They were health group members?

Kamari Collins: Yeah.

Valerie Martinez: You just see everything pretty much a whole different aspect of things you don't think in the medical field.

Laila Williams: Yeah, for example, our freshman year we focused mainly on crime scene investigations. None of us had any clue that the medical field expanded to forensic science as well. And we got to explore that through the MedTech Academy. Every year, we focus on something different. I never would have had the chance to learn about all these different career paths in the medical field if it weren't for the MedTech Academy.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. You know, I think one of the most exciting things about STEM is it can be applied in so many places, so many things. You find yourself in drug development, in physical therapy, nutrition/dieticians, or forensic investigations. And that's not even scratching the surface. I'm so I'm proud of the program that you have for yourselves, to really understand the diversity of options because we're all different people. We can all find our way to contribute. If you had to give guidance to other young women, and certainly to young men too, who also are driven to succeed in this type of a place or in this type of a way, what would you recommend to them?

Valerie Martinez: I feel like I'd probably say do it. Don't be scared. Mainly the thing that scares me the most in STEM is math. I know everybody is like, "Oh my God, math!". That's the thing where it's just like, oh God. I feel like, just go for it. Take the ups and the downs with pretty much everything you do.

Alicia Morgans: Great.

Kamari Collins: It's also finding inspiration in others. Just like we found our inspiration in our teachers, especially Miss O'Connor. She's done everything for us from the get-go. From when we were freshmen to now when we're seniors. We finally know what we want to do. Finding someone who inspires you that much, from just the get-go of everything, going further in your path and furthering your career, whether it's medical, whether it's engineering, anything, someone who has very ground idea will really help along the way.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful.

Laila Williams: Another thing that really helps in your whole career, that I've been finding from freshman year to now, is making sure that you focus on your mental health and making sure that you're okay. Because sometimes life can get really hard, especially in school. It's really important to make sure that you do have that trusted adult. For us, our trusted adult is Miss O'Connor, because we're just lucky enough to have such a great teacher like that. That's one of the main things about moving forward, is you can't move forward if you don't feel good about yourself. So, it's always really important to make sure that students focus on their mental health and make sure that they get the help that they need.

Alicia Morgans: I think that's a great message, and it's not just when you're students. I guess you could say that we're all lifelong learners, particularly in STEM, but I think you actually raised ... We had a wonderful discussion this morning. Some great keynote speakers, and then conversations with a panel at this women's symposium at the PCF. You mentioned one way that we could continue to improve teamwork and support each other is to always check-in. As we're moving forward, I love that message, as we're moving forward throughout our lives to check-in with the players on our team and make sure that they're doing well. Because when they do well, we all succeed. What are some next steps that you're taking? Where do you go from here, being seniors in this program? I don't mean to make you stress. We all have to move forward. We all graduate. Thank goodness. So, where do you go from here?

Valerie Martinez: I'd say my main step is just taking advantage of almost every opportunity I can get as of right now. Scholarships, FAFSA, all that stuff. Being able to come to foundations like this, just taking advantage.

Alicia Morgans: Great.

Laila Williams: I'd definitely say going on all these field trips. Making sure that you talk to other people that actually have made it. You see them where you want to be, especially coming here and seeing all these doctors and everybody is so successful, it really inspires me to keep pushing forward and makes me realize that my next steps of going to college I can succeed and I will succeed.

Alicia Morgans: You will.

Kamari Collins: Coming off of what Laila said, having someone who inspires you, just like all of our teachers that we have at the MedTech Academy, really furthers our education and our career path and what we really want to do. They open up different opportunities like this. Also different programs, as well as what we have in San Diego High. I really like how we have everything, that all of our opportunities are good for us.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, I sincerely appreciate you young ladies taking the time to talk with me today, to participate in the PCF Prostate Cancer Foundation's women's symposium. I encourage you all to become those mentors that you have in your lives now, because you all have the opportunity to do that, and certainly have the ability. Thank you for your time. 

Kamari Collins: Thank you.

Valerie Martinez: Thank you.

Laila Williams: Thank you.