Students of color, and African-Americans specifically, have long remained an underrepresented minority within America’s medical schools. Medical school leaders and professional organizations have worked for years to close that gap, achieving a slight increase. The percentage of medical students who identified as African-American or Black rose from 5.6 percent in 1980 to 7.7 percent in 2016—still far short of mirroring the general population.
“It’s been a persistent, stubborn racial disparity in the medical workforce,” Dr. Vanessa Gamble, a professor at George Washington University, told USA Today. “Medical schools have tried, but it also has to do with societal issues about what happens to a lot of kids in our country these days.” The disparities reflect a legacy of systemic racism and its implications for socioeconomic status and educational opportunity, researchers say.
Efforts to attract, enroll more medical students of color
Medical schools and advocates have made an effort to increase minority enrollment through holistic college application reviews that take a student’s socioeconomic status into account, providing more scholarships, and having doctors of color visit elementary and middle school students. Some have gone even further to remove financial hurdles: New York University recently announced it had seen applications from underrepresented minorities double after going tuition-free. University of Maryland, Baltimore County, also has emerged as a model for educating more diverse student bodies; it now “produces more African-Americans who go on to earn dual M.D./Ph.D. degrees than any college in the country,” USA Today reports.
It is critical that more Black students find their way to and through medical schools, because they “bring a cultural understanding” to their communities, Dr. Garth Graham, Aetna’s vice president of community health, told USA Today. “Relatability is important in patient-doctor relationships.” According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, having more Black doctors could reduce the number of Black male deaths from heart disease “by 16 deaths per 100,000 every year.”