By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) –The number of Black males applying to medical school is lower than it was three decades ago, raising concerns about the United States’ future ability to have health care providers be as diverse as the patients they serve, according to a new report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
“No other minority group has experienced such declines,” wrote Marc Nivet, the chief diversity officer for AAMC, in a foreword for the report. “The inability to find, engage, and develop candidates for careers in medicine from all members of our society limits our ability to improve health care for all.”
The AAMC report titled, “Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine,” paints a stark image of the current science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline and specifically how ineffective it has been with motivating young Black males to pursue medical careers.
In 1978 there were 1,410 Black male applicants to medical school. By 2014, however, that number had declined to 1,337, according to the report.
“A similar trend is observed for first-time matriculants: in 1978, there were 542 black male matriculants to MD-granting institutions, and in 2014, there were 515,” the report said. “In addition, of all racial and ethnic groups, the proportion of applicants to medical school who were male compared with female is lowest for African-Americans – despite an overall increase in the number of Black male college graduates.”
The AAMC represents 144 accredited medical schools in the United States, 17 accredited Canadian medical schools and nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems.
The push to get more young minorities to embrace STEM careers comes at time when researchers are predicting a shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025 and studies have shown that increasing diversity in medical schools and in health care professions can boost civic engagement, expand exposure to different educational approaches and make it easier to recognize racism, the report said.
In a statement accompanying the report, Darrell G. Kirch, the president and CEO of AAMC, said that health care professionals have to work harder to get more young Black males into the talent pipeline to increase diversity in the physician workforce.
“The nagging challenge of health disparities requires all the best minds and perspectives,” said Kirch. “’Altering the Course’ is just the first step in identifying the problem. The AAMC looks forward to working with the [National Medical Association] to begin implementing solutions.”
In 2006, more incoming Black male freshman (37.5 percent) than Black females (31.9 percent) reported that they intended to major in a STEM field, but four years later, “female African-American students received the majority of overall science and engineering degrees, totaling 100,435, while male African-American students received 51,969 science and engineering degrees,” the AAMC report said citing a study by the National Science Foundation.
A limited pool of scholarships and the staggering cost associated with earning a medical degree were identified as key challenges to getting more Black males into the medical school pipeline.
More than 30 percent of all 2014 medical school graduates reported that they accumulated a total education debt amount that eclipsed $200,000; meanwhile nearly 42 percent of Black male medical school graduates amassed that much debt.
Entering the labor market with a heavy debt burden can often contribute to a sense of lasting economic strain for health professionals and can also act as another deterrent for Black male college students weighing the value of a medical degree.
In 2006, just 26 percent of Black male physicians stated that they had “excellent” or “very good” financial status compared to 33 percent of Black female physicians, 54 percent of White female physicians and 53 percent of White male physicians, who reported the same financial status.
“Talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” exlained Nivet. “Not only are there several programs to address the issue, such as the White House initiative ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ but academic medicine is working within the community and partnering with minority-serving institutions—the largest feeder schools to medical school—to help develop the next generation of physicians.”
Even though programs like the University System of Georgia (USG) African American Male Initiative and the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) don’t specifically focus on steering young Black men into STEM careers, the report noted that both groups have shown promise with increasing college graduation rates for young, Black males, by cultivating culturally-sensitive, positive learning environments.
SAAB, a mentoring and professional development organization that began in Ohio, was able to increase graduation rates for Black male undergraduates at the University of Louisville by almost 10 percent from 2005 to 2009.
The report noted the fundamental role that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) play in preparing Black males for medical school.
According to the report, Morehouse College in Atlanta was the undergraduate institution that provided the most Black male applicants to medical schools with 148 between 2010 and 2014. The University of Florida in Gainesville (129), Howard University in Washington, D.C. (92), Xavier University in New Orleans, La., (90) and the University of Maryland in College Park rounded out the top five over the same time period. Four of the top 10 schools that provided Black male applicants to medical schools were HBCUs.
The report said that support networks, greater access to information for scholarships and grants, pre-medical education programs and updates to medical school admission policies and practices can help promote diversity in the student population at medical schools in the U.S.
The press release about the report explained that medical schools have updated their admission policies and practices in and effort to encourage diversity in their student body. These new policies look beyond a students’ performance in the classroom and exams to the student’s personal characteristics and attributes.
Nivet said that increasing the number of factors considered in the admissions process is a big part of the solution, but increasing the number of Black male students applying to medical schools is also critical.
“It is true that more Black men are in college than ever before, but not enough of them are choosing the health professions as a career,” added Nivet. “We have to understand better why that is and lead the way in helping them see medicine as a rewarding and viable option.”