New Tactics for Diversity: Creating Doctors From All Racial, Ethnic Groups

Carolyne Krupa, American Medical News, October 11, 2010

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This summer, [Rhoda] Asimeng completed a program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., designed to encourage black, Hispanic and American Indian high school and college students to pursue a medical career. Asimeng, who is black, and other interns spent the summer attending lectures, doing research, learning medical techniques, and following physicians and other health care professionals.

Montefiore’s program is one example of efforts taking place nationwide to increase the diversity of the physician work force by attracting more racial and ethnic minorities to medical schools.

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At the same time, the Assn. of American Medical Colleges’ Holistic Review Project is encouraging schools to re-evaluate admissions policies to ensure that they graduate physicians who can serve an increasingly diverse population.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, has challenged health leaders to increase the number of minority physicians, a figure that has remained about the same as it was a century ago.

In 2006, Hispanics made up 5% of the nation’s physicians, while 3.5% of doctors were black and fewer than 1% were American Indians or Alaskan Natives, according to the latest data from the American Medical Association. However, these minority groups combined make up 30% of the U.S. population, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau figures.

“Having a diverse physician work force is key to making health care reform, as well as eliminating health care disparities, a reality,” said Charles P. Mouton, MD, dean and senior vice president for health affairs at Meharry Medical College in Tennessee.

Medical schools have worked to increase diversity in the classroom for decades but with limited success, said Marc Nivet, EdD, the AAMC’s chief diversity officer.

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Sometimes the efforts start earlier than college. The American Medical Association is working to increase the number of minority physicians through programs such as Doctors Back to School. Launched in 2002 by the AMA’s Minority Affairs Consortium, the program sends minority physicians and medical students to schools to share their stories, raise awareness about the need for more minorities in medicine and serve as professional role models for children.

Overcoming barriers

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Nationwide, high school dropout rates are higher among blacks and Hispanics, and fewer minorities go to college, said Lauree Thomas, MD, associate dean for student affairs and admissions at the University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine at Galveston. “Our educational system doesn’t support minorities and first-generation [college] students going on to higher education. It is a tremendous uphill battle,” she said.

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Minorities today have more encouragement to become tomorrow’s physicians.

For example, UTMB’s Early Medical School Acceptance Program identifies college freshmen with an interest in the field and guarantees admission if they maintain a certain grade point average, make at least a 24 on the Medical College Admission Test and attend summer science courses.

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One-year booster program

Drexel University College of Medicine in Pennsylvania admits about 25 socioeconomically disadvantaged students annually who have a four-year degree but don’t have all of the prerequisites for medical school. The one-year program helps students get the scientific foundation they need and guarantees medical school admission upon completion.

“It’s for students who have personality, experience, passion, drive and all the other attributes that would make them excellent physicians–they just don’t have the metrics,” said Anthony Rodriguez, MD, Drexel’s associate dean for student affairs and diversity.

Drexel participated in a pilot of the AAMC’s Holistic Review Project that is getting medical schools to look beyond GPAs and MCAT scores. The goal is to ensure that schools capture a “broader picture of an applicant,” including life experiences and what they bring to their classes, Nivet said.

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Before it opens in 2011, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Michigan will consider factors in admissions, such as a student’s desire to practice in underserved communities and where geographically they are likely to serve.

“We are working on developing a focus and a framework for who we think would make a good medical student that goes way beyond test scores and grades,” said Linda Gillum, PhD, the school’s associate dean for academic affairs, faculty development and diversity.

In addition to attracting more minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students, medical schools must learn to retain those students, Dr. Mouton said. Students must feel they have mentors and peers they can relate to, and the school is committed to serving communities.

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