Robert A. Cain and Barbara Ross-Lee, Tribune News Service
This month, a very significant event for millions of Americans took place: the National Resident Matching Program’s annual residency match. This is when medical school graduates hope to find a residency programme where they will continue their graduate medical education. These are the physicians who will be caring for you and me, and our children and grandchildren.
While we celebrate this achievement for these graduating students, when we look at the final numbers, we will see that our goal of creating a physician workforce that is representative of our nation is still falling short. Studies show we are heading for a physician shortage crisis, but the shortage of minority doctors is a crisis we are already facing — and have faced for over a century. To overcome this challenge, we must look not at the graduates going through the match process, but at the applicants our medical schools are reaching out to and matriculating.
It is imperative that we, the undergraduate medical education community, take concrete steps to ensure that opportunities for underrepresented students, including those of African American, Hispanic and Native American descent, continue to improve and expand. As medical educators, we are especially committed to advancing opportunities that will help us foster a more diverse physician workforce that more accurately represents our nation’s patient population. But we cannot do this alone.
In an important first step, every member of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) issued a statement that recognised that the inequities of America’s education system are adversely impacting the diversity of osteopathic medical school applicants. The statement also outlines model strategies to improve and support diversity, equity and inclusion across osteopathic medical education, as well as opportunities to reframe and expand diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. As higher education institutions, we must all come together, as we did in the osteopathic medical education community, to address the inequities plaguing our nation’s education system and hindering progress for all.
The most recent data on students starting osteopathic medical school shows that women made up 52% of the cohort, the highest percentage in history. The numbers for women of colour were up, as well. While this is great progress, we know we must also attract and retain Black male student doctors, the number of which as barely risen in the past 120 years.
As a community, we are very pleased to be working with several new developing colleges of osteopathic medicine in states across the country that will help train medical students in rural and underserved communities. No project is more exciting than the proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, which is expected to have its first class of students enter in the fall of 2024. This will be the first new medical school at a historically Black college or university (HBCU) in nearly 50 years. This will help with two main goals: increase the number of Black doctors entering the profession and, in turn, increasing the likelihood of Black patients having access to Black physicians.
The nation’s colleges of osteopathic medicine (COMs) are committed to increasing medical student diversity and ensuring medical education is accessible to all. AACOM is helping its member colleges achieve this goal with a new program dedicated to supplementing instruction around health equity and health disparities — AACOM’s Academic Recognition Program. Launched last summer, this program is available to second- and third-year medical students at every COM in the United States. The program’s first course is specifically focused on inequities and disparities. The following three courses enhance the students’ abilities to recognise and understand circumstances that may contribute to inequities.
By better preparing doctors to practice in all communities, we hope to improve patient outcomes while also demonstrating the value and rewards of serving the community and strengthening relationships and trust between patients and physicians.
And that relationship is the cornerstone for the success of any treatment plan. Research has shown that African Americans are two times more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than white Americans. They also have higher rates of cancer, diabetes and pneumonia. While there are many factors contributing to these health inequities, an understandable diminished sense of trust in the medical profession by many in the Black community has led to a breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship. We need more Black physicians to have healthier communities across our nation.
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