Addressing shortage of minority students in medical school

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When Holly Humphrey, MD became the dean for medical education at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, she decided to focus her attention on recruiting underrepresented minority students.

Over time, Humphrey discovered she was only attracting new students to the Windy City by simply recruiting bright young minds away from other schools. More so, the fundamental need of increasing the total population of underrepresented minority (URM) medical students wasn’t being addressed.

Minority students

Minority students enrollment in medical school significantly increased during the 2012-2013 school year, but it’s not enough. (Shutterstock photo)

“That was one important insight, and a second was it’s one thing to redouble your efforts to recruit students to come into your school but then I wanted to better understand what happens to them while they’re in your school,” Humphrey told VOXXI. “Are they getting the kind of nurturing and support and academic success I was kind of assuming they were getting? I had no data to support that.”

While she understood the graduation rate was solid, Humphrey questioned what daily life was like for underrepresented minority students. That’s when she put together a qualitative study of current and former students called The Minority Student Voice at One Medical School: Lessons for All?, which was published in this month’s issue of Academic Medicine.

Humphrey’s data revealed multiple issues—the pipeline of underrepresented minority students into medical schools is not sufficiently robust; those minority students who are academically qualified and prepared for medical school are often intimidated by the cost of such a medical school; and very often there are not sufficient role models for the minority students either in their families, communities or medical school faculties.

“Just like the problem itself is multifactorial in its origin, I think the solution is also multifactorial,” Humphrey said. “A national dialogue and national problem gets back to the pipeline of students from URM backgrounds who are academically prepared and nurtured from a very young age to consider a career as a physician.”

“The support needs to be there and then issues related to the cost of medical school need to be addressed nationally as well as locally. That’s why all of the schools together need to vigorously try to address this by working together and building the pipeline of students who will be academically qualified and able to be successful in medical school.”

One solution being floated is a different way of evaluating students for admission. This includes a holistic review process where a student’s academic preparation is coupled with what kind of opportunities did they have and how far have they traveled to get to the point of being able to apply to medical school.

“What evidence do we have from their record of service to other people prior to applying to medical school?” Humphrey said. “Very often the URM students have a good track record of being very engaged in service related activities prior to medical school.”

minority student

The pipeline of underrepresented minority students into medical schools is not sufficiently robust. (Shutterstock photo)

A second initiative finds medical schools employing multiple mini-interviews that give students an opportunity to solve a variety of moral and ethical dilemmas in a way of standardizing the interview.

While the lack of minority students in medical school has been an issue for decades, there appears to be positive movement. With the nation facing a shortage of 90,000 doctors over the next decade, the number and diversity of students applying to and enrolling in medical school saw healthy gains this year. This is according to data released last fall by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Medicine continues to be a very attractive career choice for our nation’s best and brightest,” said Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., AAMC president and CEO in a press release. “Given the urgent need our nation has for more doctors to care for our growing and aging population, we are extremely pleased with the continued growth in size and diversity of this year’s entering class of medical students.”

Over the past year, a record number of African-American students (3,824) and Hispanic students (3,701) applied to medical school. Both groups reached new highs in enrollment with 1,416 African-American students and 1,731 Hispanic students.

“This is the kind of intractable problem that you have to take a very long view in attempting to solve, but I think we are in a moment in time in our country where we’ve seen such incredible gains politically and in other venues that the time is like no other,” Humphrey said. “You can’t expect to solve this kind of problem in one or five years but if you do think of it in terms of a generation, I really think it’s possible to change the demographics.”

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