Christopher Allen was in fifth grade when his mother told him about the Ladder, a new program in the Twin Cities for kids interested in health careers. “I was like sure, OK, I’ll check it out,” says Allen. “The first one was cool; it was focused on sports medicine. It was a hands-on thing, with sports doctors demonstrating some of what they do and explaining how they do it.”
That was in 2012; today Allen’s a scholarship-winning freshman at Luther College in Iowa. He plans to become a gastroenterologist, and he credits the Ladder —and its founder, family physician and University of Minnesota Medical School assistant professor Renée Crichlow— with preparing him to fulfill that dream.
The Ladder brings medical professionals to UMN’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis to tell about what they do to an audience of underserved kids, from elementary school through college age. Each session focuses on a different health field or medical subject and includes hands-on activities. It seeks especially to serve students from under-resourced communities —many of whom, Crichlow says, might not realize they’re “physician material.”
In “cascading mentorship,” college students mentor high schoolers, who mentor middle schoolers, who mentor elementary kids. Discussions range from tenacity and learning from failure to high school classes to take, prepping for standardized tests, and navigating the college application process.
The Ladder costs about $100 per session, and Crichlow’s next goal is raising money to support individual students. The Ladder’s unique formula has been a model for similar programs at United Hospital in St. Paul, as well as in Ohio, Wisconsin, and California.