Massachusetts Medical Society: BSPC: 30 Years of Inspiring Hope and a Career Path in Biomedical Sciences

BSPC: 30 Years of Inspiring Hope and a Career Path in Biomedical Sciences

Student-Doctor Illustration
Illustration by Chris Twitchell

A first-generation college student with a passion for biomedical sciences and the goal of becoming a physician, Ria Roberts was just one month from graduation at Brandeis University but was unsure of her next step. Apply to medical school? An MD-PhD program? How would she navigate it all?

Dr. Ria Roberts
Dr. Ria Roberts

At a Biomedical Sciences Career Program (BSCP) event that spring, her assigned advisor, Anthony René, PhD, listened to her questions and interests. His response opened a portal to her career: “He told me about NIH diversity supplements for research at NIH-funded labs,” she recalls 11 years later. With that funding, and with Dr. René’s assistance, she found a research mentor, Dr. Dennis Kasper at Harvard Medical School (HMS). The two years in his lab were pivotal. “Dr. Kasper allowed me to have a voice and made me feel like an integral member of the team,” she says. “He encouraged me to attend scientific meetings across the country and was dedicated to my success. He remains an important mentor to this day.” When five medical schools offered her admission, he opened his home for a celebration — a cherished confirmation that she belonged in medicine.

The mission of BSCP, founded in 1991, is to “provide students of every race, ethnic background, gender and financial status with encouragement, support and guidance needed for the successful pursuit of biomedical science and other science-related careers.” BSCP holds skills workshops for high school and college students (plus parents) on educational pathways, financial planning, and resume writing. But the heart of BSCP is its biennial Biomedical Science Careers Student Conference, where high school students through postdocs are paired with professionals in science and medicine for information and advice.

“Without Dr. René, I wouldn’t have heard about the NIH research supplements,” says Dr. Roberts, describing the chain of events that ultimately led her to a medical degree from George Washington University, a Yale residency, and the Harvard Clinical Geriatric Fellowship that she completed in 2021. “I have beat the odds in achieving my goals,” she says, describing arrival in the United States at age 16 from St. Vincent and the Grenadines with her sisters and parents.

“What I love about BSCP events is that students get to see others who are also underrepresented in medicine working in positions they may aspire to. Seeing others who have done it is so important,” says Dr. Roberts, a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS). “BSCP allows you to believe in the realm of the possible.”

From Vision to Reality, with Help from the MMS

Dr. Joan Y. Reede
Dr. Joan Y. Reede

Joan Y. Reede, MD, MPH, MS, MBA, founder of BSCP, was newly appointed as director for the Minority Faculty Development Program at HMS in 1991 when she recognized two groups that needed each other. Outstanding students from disadvantaged situations, particularly from groups underrepresented in science-related fields, had great potential for biomedical careers but lacked the right opportunities. The other group included health care and educational institutions and biotech companies that wanted a more diverse workforce.

Corinne Broderick
Corinne Broderick

Dr. Reede’s vision was to bring the students and biomedical professionals together. Her first step was a conference. She had community contacts, and she understood the educational needs but “was an absolute novice when it came to creating a conference,” she says. She turned to Dr. Bill McDermott, executive vice president (EVP) of the MMS, of which she was a member. He embraced the idea and introduced her to Corinne Broderick, MMS director of Education and Communications. “Corinne brought all the expertise of how to create such an event,” says Dr. Reede. “She did it with deep understanding of what we were trying to do and validated its importance.”

They got to work. Dr. Reede arranged rides for out-of-state students. Physician of all ages, races, and experience levels readily volunteered. That first conference in 1992 drew 302 students and 38 advisors. “It was amazing,” Broderick recalls. “The energy! It was very powerful. And it kept going.”

The fledgling BSCP and the MMS learned from each other. “The MMS helped BSCP understand what was going on in the practice of medicine,” says Reede. “And the MMS wanted to learn from BSCP the issues of future physicians.”

When BSCP incorporated as a nonprofit organization, the three founding organizations — the HMS Minority Faculty Development Program, the MMS, and the New England Board of Higher Education — each had a seat on the board. The MMS continues to support BSCP through an annual sponsorship and publishing services for BSCP’s quarterly newsletter.

For 30 years, Dr. Reede says, the Medical Society’s ongoing involvement and presence has been “an important voice that is always there.” Broderick, who became the MMS EVP in 2001, served on the BSCP board until she retired in 2016.

“The MMS is proud to continue to support an organization that so successfully advances diversity in medicine and provides opportunity in the biomedical sciences,” says MMS President Carole E. Allen, MD, MBA, FAAP.

Since BSCP began, more than 14,000 minority students and 1,225 postdoctoral trainees and junior faculty members have participated in its programs, which draw advisors, and speakers from around the world. More than 1,750 academic faculty and biomedical industry professionals have volunteered. An annual gala raises funds to support the organization’s work and its scholarships. The biomedical industry provided support and leadership, particularly the late Henri Termeer, who led Genzyme Corporation.

Dr. Reede expresses amazement still at how many people stepped forward from the beginning. It was a lesson, she says, in how “people coming together with a common cause could be so impactful.”

Ongoing Ways to Improve Opportunities and Equity

From today’s vantage point, though, Reede is not surprised that the need continues. “Politics and policies that hinder and exclude some people’s ability to advance were here before and exist today,” she says. In 2002, Reede became the first dean for diversity and community partnership at HMS, a position she still holds. She also continues as BSCP’s president and board chair.

While mentors and role models are needed as much as ever, Reede describes the importance of a level playing field for all. “Ask yourself: How do we fund schools, libraries, and extracurricular opportunities? How might your town or city’s referendums impact all families locally and statewide?”

She urges physicians to consider, “How do our professional societies and the profession overall include young people and provide mentoring? How do we back people who spend time doing that work?” She encourages physicians to ask themselves, “How did I get to be where I am? Who were the people who helped me?”

Dr. Roberts remembers. She is now a geriatrician at Element Care and a clinical instructor in medicine at HMS; at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, she directs both Diversity Inclusion and Advocacy for Graduate Medical Education and Diversity Recruitment and Retention for the Internal Medicine Residency Program. But she always makes time for BSCP.

Dr. Roberts moderates panel discussions at BSCP conferences. And, since 2018 she has served as a BSCP advisor — as Dr. René was to her.

Learn more about BSCP at

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