The established quo of Black medical practitioners being underrepresented is beginning to change. Medical schools across the country reported an unusual 21% increase in the number of Black first-year students enrolled in the previous year.
Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Howard University School of Medicine, and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science are four of the 155 doctor of medicine-accredited medical schools in the United States, four of which are historically Black medical programs.
With barely 5% of doctors identifying as Black, the unexpected increase in students raises hopes that long-standing health-care disparities between Blacks and whites will be reduced.
“We’ve never seen such a rapid growth in a short period of time,” said Norma Poll-Hunter, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ director of workforce diversity. The inflow of students, according to Poll-Hunter and her industry colleagues, is linked to the country’s dealing with racial tensions and the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated Black and brown communities.
“I think we can look at our society and what’s happening on the news day-to-day in terms of not only the COVID-19 crisis and how it’s disproportionately impacting our communities of color, but also thinking about the recent social protests and really greater awareness around anti-racism and the importance of really looking at systems change, and that’s true for medicine as well,” Poll-Hunter told NBC.
An active endeavor by medical schools to remove hurdles that have historically swayed Black students from seeking admittance into the field is also working in conjunction with the social and health climate.
More need-based scholarships have been a key drive, with recruiters judging hopeful prospects by more than simply medical college entrance test or MCAT results, with the average medical student amassing more than $200,000 in educational debt.
Poll-Hunter indicated that by allowing more Black medical professionals to practice, patients of color will be more likely to have favorable health outcomes when seeking care from a physician of color, as prior research has shown.
“It’s encouraging to see the diversity and number of students interested in pursuing a career in medicine grow, especially at such a pivotal moment in history, as a result of the global pandemic and growing awareness of the effects of health disparities in our country,” said David J. Skorton, M.D., president and CEO of the American Academy of Medical Colleges.
While the medical industry is diverse, it is not restricted to patient carers. Tuskegee University, a Historically Black College and University, was among a select group of schools awarded millions in grant money by the National Institutes of Health in November to pool resources and train future scientific researchers.