Feel Good Picture Masks Black Med School Pain

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On the front page of Saturday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, is a background story on a picture that went viral this week. A group of 15 black Tulane University medical students posed for photos at the Whitney Plantation. One of the students, Russell Ledet, was inspired by his daughter who remarked about the power of the descendants of slaves in medical school.

I saw this story all over Twitter this week covered by many major mainstream news organizations. Here is a sampling:

The images are powerful, no one can deny it. But there is a story that is several years old now, a story that has great significance when we discuss Black medical students, but has yet to go viral. Last month, Philadelphia Magazine covered a real crisis in medicine- the disappearance of Black men:

The article notes:

In 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a report that sounded an alarm on the issue. The report found that while 1,410 black men applied to U.S. medical schools in 1978, by 2014, nearly 40 years later, that number had not increased; in fact, it declined to 1,337.

Today, black men account for a mere four percent of all doctors in the United States, despite the fact that black people make up 13 percent of the population.

Since I learned about this report a couple of years ago, I’ve thought about ways to explain this drop. It’s really simple.

In 1980, 463,000 black men in college.

In 2015, 998,000 black men in college (a 115% increase)

In 1980, 20% of black students went to HBCUs.

In 2015, 9% of black students went to HBCUs.

Twice as many black men in college.

Fewer black students at HBCUs.

Fewer black men in medical schools.

How is this possible? If more black students are attending college, and most of them are attending predominantly white universities, which many people think are superior, why are fewer black students getting into medical school?

Simple. Too many black students attend schools that are not a good fit for them. This lessens their chances to graduate, or to enroll in graduate and professional schools due to lack of preparation, especially through mentoring and other support.

Side note: Same phenomenon is occurring in law schools. The number of black first year law students has dropped by over 600 from fall 2017 to fall 2019 alone (3,535 to 2,897), or 18%. Overall first year law enrollment dropped 7% during the same time.

The Philly Mag article says “Researchers say the shortage of black men in medicine has effectively stunted efforts to address health disparities and improve access to care for underserved populations.” To address this, we have to ensure black students attend schools that are the best fit, and for more students than we want to acknowledge, the best place is an HBCU.

In fact, it is no coincidence that the two Tulane medical students who have done most of the press graduated from Southern University and Xavier University.


The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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