Opinion: We need more black men in medicine. How do we get them there?

Physician Valerie Montgomery Rice is president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and member of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

In this piece, she examines the dearth of black men in medical school.

By Valerie Montgomery Rice

As president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, I am proud of Davon Thomas, M.D., for many reasons.

 Dr. Thomas recently graduated from Morehouse School of Medicine at the top of his class with a 4.0 grade-point average. His step 1 and step 2 national board exams were the highest in the class, surpassing national averages.

Dr. Davon Thomas, center, with Morehouse Medical School President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, and Chairman of MSM's Board of Trustees Art Collin. (Photo/Morehouse)

Dr. Davon Thomas, center, with Morehouse Medical School President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, right, and Chairman of MSM’s Board of Trustees Art Collin. (Photo/Morehouse)

At our award ceremony, Dr. Thomas sat quietly with his mother, wife and two younger siblings and received virtually every academic award we present to medical graduates. His mother, Denise, glowed as her son placed each award – all 13 of them, one by one – gently in her lap.

 Dr. Thomas is viewed as an anomaly in this country for a number of reasons. In medicine, as a 25-year-old African-American man, he earned a medical degree amid a troubling shortage today of black males in American medical schools. He is also among a very small percentage of young black males who maintain interest in science and math from elementary school through college.

 This week, the Association of American Medical Colleges released a critical report titled, “Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine.” The report shines light on a crisis in American medicine that should compel the nation’s 144 medical school leaders and those in the entire educational continuum in the United States to think differently.

At risk is our ability to build diversified health care teams that can adequately address the complex health needs of all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable among us. This risk is dramatically compounded by the millions of new Americans – many from disadvantaged groups – with health care access as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

 “While the demographics of the nation are rapidly changing and there is a growing appreciation for diversity and inclusion as drivers of excellence in medicine, one major group – black males – has reversed its progress in entering medical school,” said Marc Nivet, chief diversity officer at the AAMC and author of the report.

 “No other minority group has experienced such a decline in applications to medical school. The inability to find, engage and develop candidates for careers in medicine from all members of our society limits our ability to improve health for all.”

 In 2014, of the 40,000 applicants to U.S medical schools, only 8.8 percent – or 3,537 –  were black. Of those 3,537 black applicants, only 37.8 percent – or 1,337 –were men. The nearly 2-to-1 gender gap between black female and male applicants was the largest gender disparity of any racial group.

Almost all other racial groups had close to an even balance of female and male applicants. By contrast, in 1978, black males represented 58 percent of black applicants to medical school. Moreover, despite overall increases in the number of black male college graduates over the last 20 years, the year with the highest number of black male applicants to U.S. medical schools was more than 30 years ago.

 There are many reasons for this crisis. Among them are tremendously leaking pipelines throughout the education continuum for African-Americans in general and African-American males in particular. Too many black males drop out before graduating from high school. Of those who stay, too many lose interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines before or during high school. Of those who succeed in entering college with STEM majors, many will change their majors. Then, of those who succeed in taking the Medical College Admission Test or MCAT exam, most will not apply to medical school for reasons we do not yet understand. And finally, of those who take the MCAT exam and apply to medical school, 61 percent are not accepted.

 This leads us to another reason for this crisis: the enormous value placed on MCAT scores in our admissions criteria to U.S. medical schools. Often, students with scores 2 or 3 points below the national average – like Dr. Davon Thomas – do not get interviews. Consequently, hundreds of aspiring physicians each year are effectively denied access to medical school, which disproportionately impacts Blacks and other underrepresented minorities.  

The MCAT exam is but one piece of quantitative data that should be considered in assessing a student’s ability to be successful in medicine. Undergraduate grade-point average is another. However, qualitative markers that help measure perseverance, persistence, and a commitment to serve others are also critically important in assessing an applicant’s ability to bring value to a team of health care providers. And those characteristics, coupled with quantitative measures, should be assessed through a very systematic and holistic interview process.

 That is why the nation’s four historically black medical schools – Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Howard University College of Medicine, and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science – continue to enroll and graduate a disproportionate number of underrepresented minorities in medical school.

According to AAMC data, of the top 17 U.S. medical schools who graduated African-American physicians over the last 32 years, Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry and Howard alone graduated nearly half of them.

 At Morehouse School of Medicine, we purposefully accept students with a range of MCAT scores because we value cognitive diversity and see each day the limitations of the MCAT score in predicting success. And despite accepting some students with MCAT scores below the national average, our students’ USMLE Step 1 first-time taker board pass rates and scores consistently meet or exceed the national average.

To be sure, the historically black medical schools are doing their part to diversify the health care workforce. But they must not be the only medical institutions charged with this profoundly critical mission. This is a national – indeed an American – issue, and the health of our country weighs delicately in the balance.

 The AAMC report calls on “leaders across the education continuum, from kindergarten through professional school, to rise to the challenge of increasing the number of black males in medicine.” I join that call. As education, business and policy leaders, we must address both ends of the pipeline.

On the front end, we must increase funding and strategic collaborations in K-12 pipeline programs to attract and sustain more young Black males to STEM disciplines as we fiercely address stunning drop out, jobless and incarceration rates. On the back-end, we in academic medicine must think differently about the admissions and enrollment process, using both quantitative and qualitative measures to gauge one’s ability to succeed and add critical value to health care teams.

The research is clear that physicians who are members of underrepresented minority groups disproportionately chose primary care fields that have the greatest impact on vulnerable populations and creating health equity.

 Which brings me back to Dr. Davon Thomas, our recent MD graduate. Instead of pursing high-paying medical specialties, which many young physicians are doing as medical school debt rises, Dr. Thomas has chosen family medicine, the purest form of primary care and the area of greatest need in this country.

 And we should all be proud.

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Reader Comments 0

93 comments
Boris L Morring Jr.
Boris L Morring Jr.

This is a blessing and truly an inspiration . I spent 9 years of my life as a Combat Engineer,Sapper in our U.S.Army. After a medical separation due to vision injury I was Honorably Discharged. Now I have recently been accepted to Baylor University at 28 years old for there Pre Med ,Pre Psychology program. It seems as if all odds are against me. My first summer semester was not good at all as I get adjusted to the new academic demands and my finances has ran out. BUT GOD! This artical has place the fuel back to the fire to press forward.

Thanks

Boris Lee Morring Jr.

Future MD,PHD

M momau3
M momau3

Case in point - The University of Texas Affirmative Action case that the Supreme is going to take up-

Neither special circumstances nor grades were determinative. Of the 841 students admitted under these criteria, 47 had worse AI/PAI scores (a combination of the holistic measure, grades, and test scores) than Fisher, and 42 of them were white. On the other end, UT rejected 168 black and Latino students with scores equal to or better than Fisher’s.*


What Affirmative Action? It's called white privilege (42 of the 47 accepted with stats below Fisher's were white).


Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@OriginalProf

Sorta ironic, the author of the story (a white female) about how white females are the main beneficiaries of affirmative action and her only real life analogy is how she was denied a job in favor of a hispanic female.  Oh yeah, she did check the "Native American" box on a college application hoping to gain an advantage in admissions.

Oh, the twisted, convoluted logic of the politically correct.

Surelyyoujest
Surelyyoujest

So where's this guy doing his Residency program in Family Practice?  That will tell you more about his "abilities" in the eye of the those beholders............

M momau3
M momau3

@Surelyyoujest There is a tremendous need for family practice doctors . It is very competitive to get into medical school. The article states his scores surpassed national averages. What he specialized in should not have a bearing on his accomplishments. But, go ahead and try to downplay his accomplishments. God forbid someone would want to go into a field to help families (the lowest paying doctor) rather than perform boob jobs and lip injections.  I surely hope it's not because he is black.


http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/02/shortage-primary-care-physicians.html



Both Family Practice and Internal Medicine physicians serve as primary care physicians. Both types of physicians have attended four years of medical school, followed by a three year residency.  The focus of the residency is what differentiates the two areas.  Family practice physicians' training focuses on caring for the whole family, including pediatrics and OB/GYN care. Internal medicine training focuses solely on disease facing adults.



popacorn
popacorn

The higher the academic rigor, the more the 'achievement gap' will show. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

So, the top medical school graduate at Morehouse is just about average.  Sorta scary when you get thinking about the bottom quartile in that class.


Bottom line, with all the affirmative action and political correctness that permeates America nowadays, you had better pay attention to the background of those who hold your life in their hands.


Of course Morehouse doesn't want to talk about MCAT scores as they are in the bottom quartile of medical schools when ranked by median MCAT score - along with Howard and Meharry (you know, the three schools that graduated 50% of black doctors)

lynn305
lynn305

@Lee_CPA2 "Bottom line, with all the affirmative action...you had better pay attention to the background of those who hold your life in their hands.." -___________-


You do realize that non-blacks that score average and below on MCAT still get into medical schools, right? And you do realize that there are blacks who outperform their counterparts on these exams and still get denied? Are you also aware that Morehouse Medical School also has non-minority students? I'm tired of people assuming affirmative action=unqualified minorities. 


I'm currently in medical school and of the 20 blacks in my class, I know at least 7 of us who had above average stats when applying to medical school (the others, I simply don't know what they had). I also know that I had better stats than quite a few of my white classmates. It's frustrating for people to constantly question my capabilities simply because of my skin color. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@lynn305

"It's frustrating for people to constantly question my capabilities simply because of my skin color."


You can thank all the affirmative action programs for that.  When colleges use arbitrary criteria that have nothing to do with academic performance in order to admit black students over more academically qualified white students, then your capabilities will be questioned.

Don't like it?  Then advocate for the discontinuation of all affirmative action programs, minority set asides, Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) programs, Women Business Enterprise (WBE) programs, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.......

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 @lynn305 

Seems to me that the problem lies in the ignorance of those who assume something that is not true about college affirmative action programs. Also, all of those organizations you listed give mentoring, practical advice, and networking opportunities to minority individuals who have been traditionally excluded from business fields. Nothing else. 

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@OriginalProf

"Also, all of those organizations you listed give mentoring, practical advice, and networking opportunities to minority individuals who have been traditionally excluded from business fields. Nothing else."


Wrong once again OP.  The various federal, state, and local governments all have "set aside" provisions in their contracts which require anyone doing business with the government to allocate a certain percentage of their suppliers and subcontractors to be MWBE certified - even if it costs more money.   The incremental cost of these set-asides is BILLIONS to the taxpayers.



OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 @OriginalProf 

You've shifted the field posts now so that instead of college affirmative action programs involving race, you are discussing government set-asides in business for minorities, women, and all who have been traditionally excluded. (Would include the disabled too.)  And so sad there isn't anything for white middle-class males like you, although there is for everyone else.


But truthfully, what the point of the old ring-around?  You and I are always going to disagree about affirmative action programs........

M momau3
M momau3

@Lee_CPA2 There are plenty of bad doctors with bad bed side manners who went to so called "top schools". Check the records. These black doctors are some of the best in the country.  Surely you know that a doctor is more than a score. Furthermore, there are plenty of white and Asian doctors at or below the average in medical school and there are plenty of blacks who at well above the average who choose to go to a black medical school.

M momau3
M momau3

@lynn305 @Lee_CPA2 What affirmative action? Let's just say that if it were all about grades and GPA's, all the medical schools would be  99.9 percent Asian but you dont see them whining like two year olds.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popacorn @OriginalProf @Lee_CPA2 

I keep answering because there are others lurking and reading. Saying nothing to erroneous idiocy implies that one agrees with it. I feel that at least a token disagreement is better than nothing.

M momau3
M momau3

@Lee_CPA2 @lynn305 Because all the white people who get in are all in the top right? None or at or below average right? You are delusional. Therein lies the problem with people like you. There are plenty of whites who get in with at or below average stats (including my fav - the legacies - ask George W). There are plenty of white people who get in over Asians with much higher stats. Ask the people in certain parts of California -

http://priceonomics.com/post/48794283011/do-elite-colleges-discriminate-against-asian


If  it were all about test scores and GPA, Asians win! But of course "there are many criteria that go into the decision".  Please go ahead and cry me a river of those white privileged tears.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@OriginalProf

"Saying nothing to erroneous idiocy implies that one agrees with it. I feel that at least a token disagreement is better than nothing"


Ah yes, the online equivalent of stomping feet and calling names.   Tsk, tsk.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@M momau3

Sorry, the numbers speak for themselves.  Once again, if a doctor has the life of my loved one in their hands, I would much prefer a doctor who got into medical school on merit, not some arbitrary affirmative action quota.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@M momau3

Average MCAT scores:

Asian  29.8

White  29.3

Hispanic  24.7

Black  22.5


Ah yes, I note a recurring pattern here.  The same pattern as you see in SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, PCAT, ad infinitum.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

Talk about a double standard - if a black person wants a black doctor it is acceptable, but if I say I want a white doctor I get accused of racism?  Of course, you can choose what doctor you go to (so far) but what if you go to the emergency room?  Is it acceptable for a black person to refuse the let a white doctor see them?  Or a woman doctor?  Or an Asian doctor?

My favorite quote:  “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

I was speaking about preference.  I hope  you're honest enough to admit that there are many white people who would prefer not to have a black physician.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog Certainly.  As long as you are OK with a white person only seeing a white doctor, I am OK with a black person only wanting to see a black doctor.  Sauce for the goose and all that.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog @OriginalProf 

Cool. I'm "OK" with it because there are issues here of medical history, the doctor's "bedside manner" with his/her patient (as ErnestB points out), and larger possibly unconscious taboo areas of race, esp. here in the Deep South. A doctor examines, touches, and diagnoses one's body with his/her own body, the hands. Trust is needed on the part of the patient.

Angela J. Brown
Angela J. Brown

Help! Help! Help! My son is a Pre-Med major interested in becoming a physician. He is currently a 3.5 GPA Senior at FVSU.  We have hit major obstacles in regards to his next step. We need assistance...   angelabrown38@yahoo.com

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Angela J. Brown 

Tell you son not to give up on his dream.  Ignore the negative people.  Ask your questions directly of the personnel at Morehouse.  Perhaps Dr. Rice will contact you at your e-mail address given above.  Good luck!

Charles Douglas Edwards
Charles Douglas Edwards

GREAT, GREAT, GREAT article by Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice  ! ! !

We need more black males in medicine.

Charles Douglas Edwards

Morehouse College Staff



straker
straker

A director of admissions to the Emory school of medicine once said they could take all phd's if they wanted to.


Apparently the idea is not to have all doctors so smart they can't relate to their average patients.


For me, I don't care if my Ph.d doctor thinks I'm a dolt as long as I get outstanding care.


Better than being treated by someone who barely got thru medical school and can relate to me.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I think that many black patients would prefer a black doctor, male or female, because it's felt (rightly or wrongly) that such a doctor would be more sympathetic or understand black attitudes toward illness better. I know that, historically, many black people are suspicious of white doctors, perhaps remembering all of the "experiments" that earlier medicine carried out on black people and earlier white attitudes toward black patients. Unfair, unjust, but there it is.  I think that it's the black community that needs black doctors, especially.



And I do not think that anyone is suggesting that standards be lowered just to produce more black doctors. The problem is more at the other end--finding those who will decide to become doctors.

ErnestB
ErnestB

@OriginalProf


Well said, OP!  Not to speak for all blacks but I know many that are suspicious of doctors for the reasons you mentioned (remember the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment?).  It is also the perception of the doctor's 'bedside manner', with some believing black doctors can empathize more with the patient.  There is also the point about role models as assuming black doctor's are also involved in their respective communities, could help influence the next generation of doctor's to consider medicine as a career.


Val was a college classmate of mine and she is a sharp lady.  Part of my takeaway from her commentary that merely looking at a test score does not tell the full story about a person or reflect a measurement of their personal desire.  Schools like Morehouse help in uncovering the 'diamonds in the rough' that may sparkle brilliantly once given an opportunity.  Yes, we need to work on improving the pipeline by ensuring there is a mastery of reading before a student leaves the 3rd grade.  Only then can we ensure more black males will consider medicine and STEM for career opportunities.  this can be done without compromising standards.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@ErnestB 

"Yes, we need to work on improving the pipeline by ensuring there is a mastery of reading before a student leaves the 3rd grade."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Then, we need to start the process of language development well before kindergarten years.  When I was an active reading specialist, I advocated that schools work with all pediatricians in their districts to ensure language development starts early.  Schools do not know the children even exist before they enter the school's grounds and that is why schools must work with pediatricians in developing language skills, as a team effort among parents/guardians, schools, and pediatricians, to identify verbal needs in given children and address them very early in a child's life - well before school age.  Sometimes it is too late by the time a child enters kindergarten or first grade for him or her to keep up with his peers, if language development has not begun well in advance of the school years.

popacorn
popacorn

@OriginalProf

'And I do not think that anyone is suggesting that standards be lowered just to produce more black doctors.'

Nah, we would never lower standards to ostensibly 'help' certain groups. You can't have your cake and eat it too. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

If they start having quotas for med school, it could open the possibility of a scenario like was depicted in the movie SOUL MAN.

Astropig
Astropig

I want the best doctor my insurance will pay for. I don't care what race,ethnicity or gender.My prostate is wayyyyyy too important to be left in the (cold) hands of somebody that became a doctor to fulfill somebody else's vision of what medicine should be.

Starik
Starik

@Astropig For that, the highest qualification is short, blunt fingers,  Color is irrelevant.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Gwinnetting @Astropig 

Why must it be one over the other? The patient usually has a choice of doctors or specialists who are covered by insurance. Assuming the professional reputations are generally equal, one also considers other factors....such as race or gender that is like one's own.

Gwinnetting
Gwinnetting

@Astropig 

In choosing a doctor for my child, valuing minority status over professional reputation would be inconceivable to me. 

But it takes all kinds to make a blog, I suppose.