Brandon Henry opens doors to medicine for young people of color
August 04, 2021
Brandon Henry’s grandmother – a woman who had helped raised him – was lying in a hospital bed, dying of terminal cancer. But that wasn’t the only problem.
The physicians had initially misdiagnosed her with pneumonia, he said, and had mistreated both his grandmother and the family before and after her death. Such treatment, he added, is a common experience for people of color and a major reason many in the Black community mistrust doctors.
“Before she took her last breath, I told her that I would do whatever I could to make sure that patients weren’t treated as she was, that families weren't treated as she was, and that was kind of the beginning of me saying, ‘I want to be a doctor,’” said Henry ’07 (Biological Sciences). “I’ve always felt like it was important for me to become a doctor, so that I could help do my part to rebuild that trust within the community.”
That was 2001. Today, he’s fulfilling that promise. At Riverside Medical Clinic in Southern California, he serves as the medical director for Sports Medicine. He’s also a team physician for several local high school athletics programs.
He is the medical director for the Student Health Center and the Master’s in Athletic Training program at California Baptist University, and is the team physician for the university’s athletics programs.
He is a mentor with Tour 4 Diversity in Medicine, a national organization that seeks to increase diversity in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and other health professions. And he is also a team physician for Team USA men’s water polo.
Weaving through all his work is a common thread: Helping young people of color know that the health professions aren’t closed off to them.
“I’ve got to do my part to reach back,” Henry said. “I’ve got to show who I am and where I’ve come from, because I think a lot of young kids have to see that there are people in this world who look just like them and come from similar backgrounds as them and have been able to make it and make their dreams come true.”
Growing up in Diamond Bar, about halfway between Los Angeles and Riverside, Henry’s childhood was, like his adulthood, largely defined by athletics. His mom signed him up for every sport possible, in part to keep him out of trouble. But his skill on the field opened the door to his becoming the first in his family to attend college, first as a baseball player at nearby Citrus College, and then as a football player at Sac State.
Henry had wanted to transfer to a college farther from home, and a friend who played on Sac State’s football team convinced him to come to Sacramento in 2001, shortly before his grandma passed away.
He had never heard of Sac State. But once he came to campus, he fell in love with being a Hornet.
“It was a great experience,” Henry said. “The relationships that I formed there, the mentors that have come from there. (There were) so many great people that I came in contact with who really shaped who I am today.”
He initially enrolled as a Kinesiology major, but switched to Biological Sciences and, in part inspired by his experience at his grandmother’s hospital, realized he wanted to become a doctor. In addition, he said participating in Sac State’s Science Educational Equity program helped him realize there was a place for people who look like him in the sciences.
“That was what kind of got me saying, ‘OK, I can actually do sciences,’” he said.
“Sac State taught me a lot through my failures. That allowed me to be able to be successful.” - Brandon Henry
In addition to playing on the Hornet football team, Henry joined the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and was involved with the Student National Medical Association. He credited Sac State’s faculty and support programs, as well as the University’s Black student community, with helping him stay on the right path, especially during the two times when poor grades forced him to temporarily drop out.
“A lot of times I needed the little swift kick in the behind that said, Brandon you're playing around. If you want to achieve your goals, you've got to quit playing and make some sacrifices,” Henry said.
“Sac State taught me a lot through my failures. That allowed me to be able to be successful. It taught me how to grind, how to study effectively, taught me sacrifice, taught me how to be dedicated to what it was that I wanted to do.”
After graduating in 2007, Henry completed a postbaccalaureate program at UC Davis, then earned his medical degree from Howard University in 2013. That was shortly after he began working with Tour 4 Diversity in Medicine, visiting middle and high schools to tell his story and help inspire young people of color to pursue medical and health professions.
Many of these young people, he said, believe they can’t get into medical, dental, or pharmacy school with anything less than perfect grades. His job is to explain that while good grades are important, that’s not the only thing they bring to the table.
“Who you are is what is needed in this field,” he tells them. “The background that you have is what's needed in these fields. Your life experience is what's needed these fields.”
He also assists students with the practical aspects of pursuing health careers, helping them with personal statements or teaching them important skills like how to interview and how to dress properly for one.
Most recently, Henry spent two weeks in Montenegro as one of four team physicians for Team USA men’s water polo. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means he cannot be in Tokyo with the team, but he watched and cheered from home .
Twenty years after he started college and his grandmother passed, he says the people he met at Sac State helped him persist through college and become who he is today.
“It made me a better person and it taught me a ton about learning how to persevere through failures,” Henry said. “And, yeah, I had my failures at Sac State and that's a part of growing up. That's part of becoming an adult in this world. But I was able to persevere through failures those because of people I had around me.”