News and Commentary Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Medical Schools

With an impending physician shortage, news that the number of first-time medical school applicants reached an all-time high this year was encouraging. Even more significant, a greater number of African American and Hispanic students have shown interest in the profession, applying and enrolling in higher numbers than ever before.

According to the data, released last week by the Association of American Medical Colleges, Black/African American medical school applicants increased by 4.8 percent from 3,475 in 2010 to 3,640, while enrollees increased 1.9 percent from 1,350 to 1,375. Hispanic/Latino applicants increased by 5.8 percent from 3,271 in 2010 to 3,459 and enrollees increased 6.1 percent from 1,539 to 1,633. The total number of applicants this year was 43,919 and enrollees totaled 19,230, an increase of 2.8 percent and 3 percent respectively over last year.

Diversifying the pool of medical school students and developing the careers of underrepresented minorities are central strategies for strengthening the health professions workforce. By recruiting health providers who reflect and share similar experiences with the populations they serve, we can help improve the delivery of culturally competent care and better meet the health care needs of our increasingly diverse population. What is more, health care providers from underrepresented minorities are more likely to return to their communities to practice medicine and provide care to underserved people. With projections that by 2050 ethnic and racial minorities in the US will collectively become the majority, the need to recruit more African Americans and Hispanics to the health professions is even more urgent.

As medical schools set about educating and training this next generation of physicians, they will need to diversify the academic environment and focus on ways to continue to attract and retain minority students. Recruiting faculty of color and addressing barriers to academic advancement in health professions education—problems being tackled by Macy grantees, including the Yale School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Macy Faculty Scholar Dena Hassouneh—are important first steps.

Continued support for and reforms to graduate medical education will also be essential to ensure that the residency training these new medical school students will ultimately undertake provides them with the competencies they need to practice in today’s health care system.

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