Benedicta Agyemang-Brantuo’s family moved from Ghana to Worcester, Massachusetts, when she was in high school. She could see that the U.S. health care system, with all of its flaws, was still much better than Ghana’s.
She decided to become a doctor – after first earning a master’s degree in public health. An honors chemistry major on the pre-med track, Agyemang-Brantuo is minoring in public health so that she can better understand how to deliver care more effectively.
“In Ghana, there are no personal physicians. You have to go to the hospital to see whatever doctor is there. You have to go there and show them, ‘This is where I’m suffering,’” she says. “That’s why I want to look at what public health brings to the table.”
At UMass Lowell, she also enrolled in a brand-new program during her sophomore year: the Medical Profession Admission Gap Initiative and Collaboration, or MAGIC, directed by Chemistry Assoc. Teaching Prof. Khalilah Reddie. It helps students from underrepresented groups prepare for health care careers.
“MAGIC didn’t make us get all A’s, but it encouraged us and motivated us. Tutors came to every session. We had more practice sheets, and Prof. Reddie was there to help us with some topic that we didn’t understand,” says Agyemang-Brantuo, who now tutors organic chemistry for the program. “It was a good way to feel comfortable and express ourselves, without being afraid to speak up.”
Reddie encouraged Agyemang-Brantuo and two other students in that first MAGIC cohort to apply to the UMass Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program (Bacc-MD), which aims to diversify the medical field by preparing UMass undergraduates from underrepresented groups for medical school. If they complete the program successfully, they are admitted to UMass Medical School in Worcester.
Agyemang-Brantuo says that Reddie wrote letters of support for all three of them – and when they all got in, she celebrated their success, bringing a cake to their next meeting.
The Bacc-MD program has also been wonderful, Agyemang-Brantuo says, especially hearing different physicians talk about their specialties and how they make a difference in their communities.
“They teach you how to tackle imposter syndrome, find a mentor, and learn about the different disciplines,” she says. “It was cool to listen to the physicians and think about, ‘This is how I’m going to give back to my community when I’m in her shoes.’”
Agyemang-Brantuo isn’t waiting to make a difference. Inspired by a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quote – “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane” – she decided to start a club dedicated to supporting students of color as they work to enter the health professions. Advocates of Health Equity for Minorities, which she started during the COVID-19 pandemic, will perform community service, too.
Agyemang-Brantuo also serves as a senator in student government and a student ambassador for the Kennedy College of Sciences. Even as a first-year student, she was looking for ways to help people, working with a DifferenceMaker team to address the stigma facing pregnant women who are addicted to opioids and remove some of the obstacles they face in accessing prenatal care.
For all of her work in the university and Lowell communities, she won the university’s 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award. No one who knows her was surprised – except her.
“I just was shocked,” she says. “I did not expect that.”