Colleges designing pathways to medical degrees for underrepresented students in hopes of narrowing health disparities

Seeking to better meet the health needs of urban communities, colleges are creating programs that help underrepresented students apply to, enroll in, and succeed at medical school. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, less than six percent of medical school graduates identify as Black, while 13 percent of Americans identify as Black.

Black men have the lowest life expectancy of every American demographic group, but research has shown that they are more likely to seek and follow medical advice from a trusted Black doctor.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently profiled Cleveland State University’s effort to address underrepresentation among physicians, sharing the story of one man’s unconventional path to the profession and the importance of role models and educational opportunities along that journey.

Related: Medical schools, advocates pushing to enroll more students of color >

‘You can do it, this is totally possible’

Carl Allamby, M.D., worked his way from a career as a car mechanic to a medical degree at age 47. Allamby, who is Black, had childhood dreams of being a doctor, but soon abandoned them having never known anyone who was Black and a doctor. His grades were low, no one discussed college opportunities with him, and his peers aimed for factory jobs or military service.

Allamby finished high school and established a successful auto repair business; decades later, he was taking night classes at Ursuline College in Ohio to grow his business, when a series of interventions changed his career. A Cleveland Clinic resident who taught Allamby’s required biology class at Ursuline became a role model. Then, two friends who were Black doctors encouraged Allamby to go into medicine.

“It was just incredible, the support they gave me, saying ‘You can do it, this is totally possible,’” recalled Allamby.

‘We absolutely need more Black doctors’

Allamby graduated from Ursuline, earned a second undergraduate degree at Cleveland State University, and was recruited to Northeast Ohio Medical University by the Partnership for Urban Health, which seeks to train doctors from underrepresented backgrounds to practice in urban communities.

Now a resident in the Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital’s emergency department, Allamby says many of his Black patients express relief at having a Black doctor. “We absolutely need more Black doctors,” he says, adding that “you remove a lot of those [trust] barriers when there is a person there who looks like you.”

‘We’re just trying to produce doctors to serve our community’

Kimalon Dixon, who spearheaded a grant at the Cleveland Foundation for the partnership program that recruited Allamby, says that, historically, students of color have not been encouraged to go into science, math, and medicine. “Programs like this are trying to undo the damage done by structural racism,” she said. Twenty-two percent of students currently participating in the partnership program come from underrepresented backgrounds.

“We’re just trying to produce doctors to serve our community,” said partnership leader Sonja Harris-Haywood, M.D.


Fulfilling dreams, serving others

The Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) program is a one-year program designed to equip under-represented and disadvantaged students for success in medical education. Read Story

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