Drexel University College of Medicine was recently ranked seventh by U.S. News & World Report on a list of the top 10 medical schools with the most African-American students.
The distinction means the college has bucked an unsettling trend in medical education. Though more students are going to medical school than ever before, there were fewer black men in medical school in 2014 than in 1978, according to a 2015 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 1978, 1,410 black men applied to medical school and 542 enrolled. In 2014, those numbers dropped to 1,337 and 515.
The 2015 report suggests that physicians and administrators across the country must better understand these trends and find broad-based solutions to “alter the course” for black men in medicine.
“Medicine, as a whole, has not done amazing things addressing the representation of African-Americans in medical training,” said Ana Nuñez, MD, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the College of Medicine.
Dean Daniel Schidlow, MD, appointed Nuñez to her associate dean position this past spring, in an effort to attract, retain and graduate more minority students from the College of Medicine.
Nuñez said she is proud the college enrolls some of the highest number of black students in the country, and yet, there is more work to do.
“Most schools on that list, around 8 percent of their medical students are African-American. If African-Americans are more than 14 percent of the U.S. population, then medical school populations should reflect that,” she said. “Part of my role is to figure out ways that we can collectively augment what the college is doing well to enroll a diverse class and attend to things we’re not, so that we can address this particular issue.”
Increasing diversity in the medical field is important. Studies have shown that black patients are more trusting of black doctors, and black and Hispanic doctors tend to serve in poorer communities, where there is a greater need for health professionals.
The College of Medicine has a long history of honoring diversity. The Woman’s Medical College, one of its parent institutions, was the first medical school in the world for women when it was founded in 1850. After 120 years, the school became co-educational in 1970 under the name the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
“We value the legacy of the college’s parent institutions, which admitted students who were not considered ‘legitimate,’ because they were women, or black or Italian,” Nuñez said.
Building on that commitment, Drexel College of Medicine continues to consciously enroll underrepresented and “non-traditional” students into its medical programs. Further, Drexel’s pre-medical and pre-health programs are designed for students who come from a variety of backgrounds and varied career goals to enter into health professions.
“We compose our class with those who we think may be underrepresented in medicine, and we make sure those people have a chance here, even if they might not somewhere else,” Nuñez said.
For the College of Medicine’s admissions committee, honoring that commitment means that it completes a holistic review of every single applicant, which includes taking volunteer experiences, background and future career goals into equal consideration with GPAs and MCAT scores.
“Obviously, we are not going to take anyone who doesn’t have ‘the smarts’ to make it through,” Nuñez said. “But you can have someone who is a really great test scorer, who may not be a good doctor — or one you’re likely to go back to. We are looking to train great people with ‘the smarts’ who you’ll be thrilled to have as your doctor.”