Why so few blacks in medicine?

According to recent  data (from  2008 –  2010) African Americans make up  approximately 12% of the general population, yet only 9% of the nation’s nurses,  5% of dentists.  The number of Black  physicians varied by source, ranging anywhere from 3 – 6%.

The primary goal of healthOU was a small attempt at trying to solve address this problem.  In my medical school class of over 160 students, less than 20 were Black, and that was considered a GREAT year.  In subsequent years, from classes that were about the same size ( 160 – 165) only about 5 – 8 were of African descent.

Needless to say, this is NOT a new problem.  I came across an article in JAMA from 1967!!  that talked about the need for more African Americans in medicine and discussed options to try and achieve that goal.    The article stated that Blacks made up 11.4 % of the population but only 2.2% of the country’s physicians.

As I was looking for opinions on this controversial question I came across a whole host of responses, ranging from good, bad to just plain ugly.   Check out a few of them:

1. Poor preparation for premed coursework during high school.

2.  Minimal ( if any) exposure to black healthcare professionals  ( ” When I was looking for a physician to shadow it was hard. Only a few black physicians actually returned my call.”)

3. Not that many blacks are applying.

4. Lack of  mentorship, through the grueling longterm process.  (At the end of the day, if African Americans don’t see a doctor role model, “you won’t know how to be one”)

And then there was this precious gem!

5. Blacks on average do not possess the intelligence and the dedication it takes to become a medical doctor in America but fully qualify to be a Witch doctor or a criminal.”

Oddly enough, a lot of the reasons touted above were discussed in 1967 as well. 😦  So why is this still an issue?  And better yet, what can be done about it?

Sources                                                                                                                                                      Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the US, 2010 Edition. American Medical Association.

One Response to Why so few blacks in medicine?

  1. Natacha P. says:

    Great post.

    I definitely agree that a lack of mentorship, role models in the field, and subsequent support during this journey are the biggest forces for these staggering statistics.

    When you look at the communities that largely represent those who matriculate into a career in medicine, there is usually an overwhelming support, financially, mentally, or otherwise. Also, they usually have at least one physician in their family who paved the way for them from a young age.

    I for one had none of those. Of course, I was supported emotionally and spiritually from day one. However, as well meaning as my family is, being that i’ll be the first to become a physician, they had no idea what went into this decision…from the MCAT, application process, cost, stress, discouragement, sacrifice, etc.
    I felt alone in the journey, mostly. If my passion didn’t outweigh my circumstances, I’m not sure I would’ve made it.
    It’s still a journey. And their prayers availeth much!

    Everything the community “lacks” to create interest in this field is something that can be rectified, and creating such a blog as this is a great first step!

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