COM Grad 'Paving Path' for Others to Follow

Contact: Heather Woolwine

Feb 29, 2016

CHARLESTON, SC – Ja’Pel Sumpter, M.D., a graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina, knows she’s one of the lucky ones. As the only child of a teenage mother, Sumpter spent most of her childhood with her grandmother, Carrie Worthy. Surrounded by poverty, her mother, Karen, wanted to create a better future for her family. She encouraged her daughter to aim high. Sumpter did, and is now doing her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University.

But Sumpter has more on her mind than her own future. She wants to help others who, like her, come from disadvantaged backgrounds. So she and her best friend, Cynthia Grady, M.D., have created a website to help undergraduates at small colleges navigate the complicated process of qualifying for and applying to medical school. They’re calling it The Paved Path.

The website has the support of key leaders at MUSC, which has a long-term commitment to educating and training more black physicians. In fact, outside of historically black colleges and universities, MUSC leads the nation in graduating black male physicians. MUSCHealth chief executive officer and vice president for Clinical Operations, Pat Cawley, M.D., said Sumpter’s website has the potential to further improve the diversity of the physician workforce.

“I was happy to help support Dr. Sumpter's innovative project through mentoring as well as financial support,” Cawley said. “It’s in sync with our MUSC goals and I believe that because of Dr. Sumpter's enthusiasm and dedication, the project will be successful.”

Sumpter hopes so. She knows from experience how tough it can be to apply to medical school, so there should be plenty of people who could use the website’s help. “Often when you’re an undergraduate at a smaller school, you receive guidance from faculty on how to get into medical school who have never been to medical school or even through the application process,” Sumpter said.

Sumpter got through that process with the help of a support system she and Grady were part of as undergraduates at Winston-Salem State University, a historically black public research university in North Carolina. Both were majoring in scientific areas and wanted to go to medical school. They became close friends with several other students who had the same goal. They encouraged each other as they kept their grades up, did volunteer work, studied for the Medical College Admission Test and wrote application essays.

While Sumpter wound up at MUSC and Grady went to the University of Pittsburgh, they’ve continued to work together to help other Winston-Salem students get into medical school. That work led to an idea.

The website launched January 11, 2016. For now, it focuses on undergraduates who want to go to medical school, although Sumpter plans to expand it in the future to help students interested in other fields such as dentistry and nursing.

The current website lets pre-medical students create profiles to showcase their accomplishments for minority affairs and admission offices, follow events at medical schools they’re interested in, let those schools know about their interest and get in touch with current medical students to get advice.

The world is changing, and Sumpter said the medical profession needs to reflect the patients it will serve. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts the United States will become a minority-majority nation in 2043. In other words, while non-Hispanic whites will still be the largest group, they will no longer make up a majority of the country’s population.

“African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet we’re only 3 percent of the doctors in the nation. That needs to change,” Sumpter said. “We need more doctors who can relate to their patients through cultural sensitivity and cultural competency. Having those qualities will definitely aid in providing the best patient care. This website will help bring more people who embody those qualities into the field of medicine.”

Sumpter said it’s important to reach students when they’re just starting as undergraduates, helping freshmen interested in medicine build their applications and get feedback from schools they’re interested in early in the process. “Starting early allows students more time to identify and strengthen weak areas in their application—ultimately making them more competitive. That will help increase the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine,” Sumpter said.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the state's only comprehensive academic health system, with a unique mission to preserve and optimize human life in South Carolina through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates more than 3,200 students in six colleges – Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy – and trains more than 900 residents and fellows in its health system. MUSC brought in more than $300 million in research funds in fiscal year 2023, leading the state overall in research funding. MUSC also leads the state in federal and National Institutes of Health funding. Learn more about our academic programs.

As the health care system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest-quality and safest patient care while educating and training generations of outstanding health care providers and leaders to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Patient care is provided at 16 hospitals (includes owned or governing interest), with approximately 2,700 beds and four additional hospital locations in development, more than 350 telehealth sites and nearly 750 care locations situated in all regions of South Carolina. In 2023, for the ninth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health University Medical Center in Charleston the Number 1 hospital in South Carolina. Learn more about our patient services.

MUSC has a total enterprise annual operating budget of $5.9 billion. The nearly 26,000 MUSC family members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers, scientists, students, affiliates and care team members who deliver groundbreaking education, research, and patient care.