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Delivering Prescriptions for Student Success


Sixth-graders raise their arms in "power poses" led by Zuri Murrell, MD, during Career Day at John Burroughs Middle School.

Zuri Murrell, MD, stood before a classroom of bright sixth-graders at the school that he attended decades ago. The Cedars-Sinai faculty member could still recall the childhood hopes and dreams of many of his former classmates at John Burroughs Middle School.

"Anybody want to go into sports?" he asked the class. Several hands shot up.

In fact, Murrell told the honors class, numbers suggest they would have a better chance of becoming brain surgeons than NBA or NFL players. There are about 3,500 U.S. brain surgeons, versus 2,200 total NBA and NFL players.

"I love what I do," Murrell told the class.

Murrell was one of seven Cedars-Sinai faculty members who shared their expertise and enthusiasm for medicine during Career Day at the Hancock Park school, interacting with nearly 500 students in 16 classrooms.

The March 3 visit was the first public outreach initiative by the newly minted Cedars-Sinai Faculty Diversity Ambassadors group. Backed by the Office of Faculty Development, the ambassadors support underrepresented groups in medicine and science, on campus and in the surrounding community.

Murrell has strong roots in the Hancock Park community, having graduated from John Burroughs in 1989. "Coming to this school was the beginning of what made me successful in life," he told the sixth-graders, crediting caring teachers for his success. It was during this period that he decided to become a doctor after his mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Years later, the disease took her life.

"I wanted to be a superhero," Murrell said. "I was that kid that kept breaking his arm jumping off the roof because I didn't learn I couldn't fly. Two broken arms later, I finally realized I couldn't fly. But I still wanted to try to save people's lives."

Today, Murrell is achieving his childhood goal by serving as a colorectal surgeon and medical director of the Colorectal Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. "I love what I do," he told the students. "Every day I wake up, after I send my kids off, it's an adventure."

He urged the students to take the same attitude. "Come to school with a good breakfast and an open mind," he said. Throughout the day, he added, eat foods full of fiber and vitamins — like vegetables, fruits and oatmeal — which can help prevent colorectal cancer.

Students peppered Murrell with questions about junk food, smoking, drinking, obesity and other health issues. "It was good to see kids participate who don't usually raise their hands," said their teacher, Eurie Kim. "Dr. Murrell was talking about something they could relate to: their health."

At the end of class, Murrell led the students in "power poses," with arms high and fists clenched like racers on a victory lap, to charge up for the day.

In another classroom, filled with eighth-graders, Christopher Harris, MD, associate professor and director of Pulmonary Pediatric Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, was cataloging the enormous variety of healthcare professionals, from occupational therapists to pharmacists. "For anybody in this classroom, succeeding in life is possible," he said.

Harris was inspired to help organize the Faculty Diversity Ambassadors by Sarah Kilpatrick, MD, PhD, associate dean for Faculty Development and professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Kilpatrick sent an email to faculty suggesting such a group about a year ago. "We know there is bias in the healthcare field, as it relates to underrepresented groups, and this is something we want to address," Harris said.

One way to fight this bias is to encourage more Latinos, African-Americans and other young people from diverse ethnic and racial groups to pursue medical careers. "You can't be what you can't see," Harris said. "Children need to have a complete understanding that medical providers come from backgrounds like theirs and that they can succeed in this profession."

Besides Harris and Murrell, faculty members who participated in Career Day were Rodrigo Alban, MD; Miguel Burch, MD; Ruchira Garg, MD; Nicolas Melo, MD; and Ueli Rutishauser, PhD.

"Cedars-Sinai's participation was priceless," said Steve Martinez, EdD, principal at John Burroughs, where most of the nearly 1,800 students are from groups that are underrepresented in medicine.

In the future, Harris said, the Faculty Diversity Ambassadors would like to extend their work with the school to include science classes and other endeavors. "It is vitally important that we, at Cedars-Sinai, show our commitment to our neighbors," he said.

In that regard, Melo pointed the way: He went straight to John Burroughs for Career Day after completing his overnight shift as a trauma surgeon at Cedars-Sinai.

For more information about the Faculty Diversity Ambassadors, or to participate in future events, contact or 310-248-8642.

"For anybody in this classroom, succeeding in life is possible," Christopher Harris, MD, said during his Career Day talk to eighth-graders.