Her family history inspires her to help aspiring doctors from non-traditional backgrounds

A portrait of Northeastern student Khailah Nichole-Robin Griffin.
Khailah Nichole-Robin Griffin drew from her own experiences while launching UnorthoDOCx, a nonprofit organization that helps non-traditional pre-medical students. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Khailah Nichole-Robin Griffin realized last year that preparing for and applying to medical school was more difficult and expensive than she had imagined—and that the admission system was tilted against people from unusual backgrounds. She responded to those challenges by creating UnorthoDOCx, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for nontraditional pre-medical students.

In support of her efforts, Griffin has received an inaugural $2,500 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. The organization is distributing a total of $100,000 in grants to help fund 17 ventures.

Since the launch of UnorthoDOCx in January, 254 people have subscribed to receive monthly emails from the program, and close to 1,000 follow the organization on Instagram.

The Innovator Award has helped fund seven UnorthoDOCx scholarships to help pre-med students cover the costs of applying to medical school. Additionally, MCAT-Prep is offering four students a bundle of resources to help them study and prepare for the medical school entrance exam.

Griffin, captain of Northeastern’s track and field team, has been inspired by her late grandmother, a Georgia sharecropper who enabled Griffin to succeed “because of the sacrifices she made.” Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Griffin, a fifth-year student who is on the pre-medical track while majoring in business administration and management information systems, is planning to offer more need-based assistance to pre-med students as UnorthoDOCx continues to grow. In addition to personally reviewing the scholarship applications, she also recruits and pairs mentors in the healthcare field with a pre-med student.

“The mentorship program is our biggest thing,” says Griffin, who has matched 10 pre-med students with a mentor. “We’ll probably automate the process as we get bigger and bigger, but for now I really want to read through these applications and match each person with someone who has had a similar experience—a med student, someone in a residency position, or maybe another pre-med student who is really on top of their stuff or is a tutor.”

Griffin, the founder and chief executive, has been supported by her four-person UnorthoDOCx team. Together, they’ve hosted online events at least once per month to introduce pre-med students to role models who provide advice and support.

“The evidence is clear: People innovate for problems they relate to,” says Betsy Ludwig, executive director of women’s entrepreneurship at Northeastern. “Khailah’s perspective and experience as a business student with an interest in pre-med has led her to an innovative solution to encourage a more diverse set of medical school applicants—and the innovation doesn’t stop there. In the long run, a diversified pool of doctors and medical professionals will innovate better treatments for a diverse patient set. It’s a win-win. Khailah’s passion is infectious and we are so happy to support her and UnorthoDOCx.”

Griffin is serving a co-op as a patient care technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She is also preparing for her final season of spring track and field—she competes in the 100 meters, 200 meters, the 4×400 meter relay, and the long jump—as she looks forward to graduating in May. Griffin has been a team captain since her sophomore year, an unusual honor for someone so young.

She says her hero is her late grandmother, Dollie C. Griffin, a sharecropper in Georgia with no education beyond middle school who raised nine children.

“She passed when I was very young, but it’s as if I know her,” says Griffin, 22, who was born on her grandmother’s birthday. “From the stories that my dad shares with me, she was a very hardworking and intelligent woman. It just blows my mind that she was my grandmother—not some ancient relative—and that she was able to get the house that she had at that time period, and to create enough money to put nine kids through school who all ended up being incredibly successful. It motivates me in ways that people cannot relate to.

“I want to carry that same spirit. Obviously, I grew up way more privileged than she and my dad did, but I want to make sure that I never lose that understanding that you have to work hard for things and stay on your feet and be intelligent about the decisions you make. It’s because of the sacrifices she made that we’re all able to live the way we’re living now.”

More than a year ago, as she began to look into the medical school application process, Griffin realized how hard it must be for nontraditional students who wish to become physicians.

“In the pre-med world, you basically do your undergrad program—typically majoring in the sciences—and in your senior year you apply to med school and matriculate the following year,” she says. “But it doesn’t work out that way for everybody.”

According to UnorthoDOCx, the demographics of “nontraditional” pre-med students include people who are 25 or older, who may have a non-science degree, or are contemplating a career shift to healthcare from another profession.

Griffin cites her own nontraditional background as a Black woman who hasn’t majored in science and who is planning to take a gap year after graduating from Northeastern in May.

“And grade-wise, I am not a 4.0 student,” she adds, referring to another nontraditional aspect. “There are tons of brilliant students who I’m sure love the idea of going into healthcare and helping people, and a lot of those people probably won’t even go for it because they can’t afford it or they feel like it’s not for them.”

She hopes that her nonprofit will help people from a variety of backgrounds break into healthcare. Griffin knows that she has benefited from her recent startup experiences.

“When I started UnorthoDOCx, it was because I took a step back and realized there are thousands of other students who are like you,” she says. “I’m going to speak up for others who might feel they’re alone. They may be taking the nontraditional path, but that shouldn’t prohibit someone from chasing their dreams.”

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