Med schools’ minority enrollment stays low



According to a recent study by the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the proportion of under-represented minority medical students has not increased nationwide since the early 1970s. But Yale School of Medicine administrators said the school’s enrollment reflects the ethnic diversity of the nation as a whole.

The Yale School of Medicine has enrolled classes approximately equal to the national average for the past five years, said Richard Silverman, director of admissions at the Yale School of Medicine. Under-represented minority medical students — defined as African Americans, Mexican Americans, mainland Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans — accounted for 18.2 percent of medical school enrollment in 2002, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges or AAMC.

“Using the AAMC definition–the number of ‘under-represented minority’ students enrolling at the School of Medicine over the past five years has ranged between a low of 13 and a high of 20, for an average of about 16 percent in each 100-student class,” Silverman said in an e-mail. “These figures do not include Hispanic students other than Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, Asian Americans, or international students, all of whom contribute in important ways to the ethnic and cultural diversity of our student body.”

According to The Princeton Review, among Ivy League medical schools, Harvard Medical School reports the highest percentage of under-represented minorities, at 20 percent. Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons reports the lowest percentage, with only 12 percent.

The AMSA study, commissioned by the Bureau of Health Professions, offered possible explanations for the low enrollment of under-represented minorities, stating that social factors and financial issues inhibit many of these students from attending medical schools. According to the report, minority students perceive that their ambitions for medical careers are not respected by colleagues and faculty.

To address such issues, Yale founded its Office of Minority Affairs for the School of Medicine in 1989, to address minority students’ needs. The office expanded in 1995 to form the current Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMCA), to address the needs of a wider range of under-represented minorities.

“The objective [of the OMCA] is to support medical students who are under-represented in or constitute a minority among medical students,” said Forrester Lee, assistant dean of Multicultural Affairs at the Yale School of Medicine and professor of internal medicine. “We work to encourage students to apply to Yale — and [provide] them with academic and career support.”

Lee said while the School of Medicine has enrolled classes representative of the nation’s diversity since the 1970s, the issue of under-represented minority enrollment remains a national problem.

“The demographics of the [United States] population have changed drastically in the last 20 to 30 years, and the amount of minorities has been increasing, particularly Hispanics,” Lee said. “Medical schools have not been adapting to the reality that there are more minorities in the population.”

Silverman said national commitment to increasing the enrollment of minority medical students has been ongoing, but the changing United States population has complicated the definition of an “under-represented minority.” One major campaign was the AAMC’s “Project 3000 by 2000″ begun in 1994, which aimed to enroll 3,000 under-represented minorities by the year 2000.

“[Project 3000] was a rallying cry, but in the meantime the world became a lot more complicated, and people began to disagree what constituted an under-represented minority,” he said. “This program resulted in some very constructive initiatives — but ended up being pushed to the side.”

As another means of diversifying the School of Medicine, Lee said the OMCA has been considering ways to increase the number of minority faculty. According to the AMSA Web site, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 26 percent of the U.S. population, while under-represented minority faculty account for only about four percent of United States medical school faculty members.

“[Increasing the number of minority professors] was the focus of internal discussion and debate, but our consensus was that we should build a pipeline of students who would pursue an academic career, to develop pathways that might lead to faculty positions,” Lee said. “[Our idea] is to expand the pool of minority students interested in pursing academic careers at Yale.”

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