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Part of the Solution

 4 min read

SKMC Student’s Business Funds Test Prep Subscriptions for Peers

Kayla Holston headshot Kayla Holston, SKMC Student and Founder of Melanin Med

To say that 2020 was a challenging—and galvanizing—year is an understatement. From the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, events that year started a firestorm igniting emotions, activism, collaboration, and inspiration.

Kayla Holston, who will begin her fourth year at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, wanted to be part of the solution. “All of these things were snowballing, and feelings were amplified with all of the national attention on racism,” she says. “I was part of efforts within Jefferson to respond.”

Holston started her company, Melanin Med, in 2020 as a second-year student. She shares, “One of the things that inspired me was the idea that there were patients who felt uncomfortable when they didn’t have physicians or healthcare providers that looked like them. The company’s overall goal was to not only increase the number of health providers of color, but also to create products for people who looked like me, and were underrepresented in the medical field. One of the ways that we do that is by making the field more comfortable for patients and providers of color through our products. It’s almost an unspoken way to say, ‘I’m here for you.’” 

Products specifically made for Black people in medicine are scarce, especially for Black female physicians. Holston created t-shirts, scrub caps, lapel pins, stethoscope clips, hats, and more displaying powerful taglines including “Racism Is a Public Health Issue” and “Black Patients Matter.”

“It started as a business that provided accessories that highlighted the fact that Black patients and Black healthcare providers matter, and eventually became a company that allows people to showcase that they support patients of color,” she says. “I’ve been wearing these products myself and have had patients express so much comfort when I’m caring for them.”

Outreach for Melanin Med started with an Instagram presence and a website—and the buzz was extraordinary. “I just marketed the products there, and tons of people in the medical field started following on Instagram and ordering one by one, making individual purchases,” she shares. Soon, orders began to blossom. Medical schools, specifically diversity offices, began to buy in bulk and have their medical students wear the merchandise. Holston remarks, “It’s a way for medical students, or people in general, to say, ‘Look, I’m taking a step; I’m an ally. I support you as a minority patient.’”

Holston then launched an initiative to reach not only medical schools, but also medical students. “I started connecting with chapters of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the membership organization catering to minority medical students,” she says. “I partner with chapters throughout the country and host fundraiser programs. A portion of the sales go to that SNMA chapter. That’s one of the ways that Melanin Med gives back.”

Advancing her philanthropic mission, earlier this year Holston launched a scholarship and mentorship program through her high school alma mater, Bethel High School, in Hampton, Virginia. The program provides three $1,000 scholarships to high school students in the health professionals program who are African-American or identify as Black and are interested in pursuing careers in the medical field.  

Holston continues, “One very important goal for Melanin Med is mentoring people and teaching them how to apply to scholarships and fund their education. Right now I’m mentoring the students. As the program expands, hopefully we’ll talk to other people.”

Another philanthropic program benefits Holston’s fellow SKMC students. This year Melanin Med will provide UWorld test preparation subscriptions for a third- and a fourth-year student. “The idea is to find someone who has focused their efforts at Jefferson, in addition to academics, on increasing diversity and inclusion within the medical school and its recruitment program,” she says.

One very important goal for Melanin Med is mentoring people and teaching them how to apply to scholarships and fund their education.

Kayla Holston SKMC Student and Founder of Melanin Med

Holston has not yet applied to the match program, but plans to pursue obstetrics and gynecology, with a focus on addiction medicine within obstetrics. In addition, she plans to continue Melanin Med. “Right now, my goal is to maintain my academic performance and this current level of what Melanin Med is doing,” Holston shares. “As I recruit other people who can help me in a trusted way, I’ll work on expanding more.”

Holston is aware of the incredible opportunity she’s created, for herself and others. “If you had asked me a few years ago or two years ago, to be exact, I would have said that I want to be able to give scholarships, sell on a national level, and partner with medical schools—and I’m doing all of those things,” she remarks. “I never would have imagined this so soon. What is most important to me, other than being able to give back in a monetary way to students, and to increase the number of professionals of color, is to be a conversation starter in a way that people are outwardly showing that they support Black patients and patients of color.”