Cooper medical tries to buck the trend of Latinos absent from medical workforce

Cooper medical tries to buck the trend of Latinos absent from medical workforce

It’s no secret that doctors nationwide lack a Latino presence, but a recent study revealed just how dire the situation has become: A new report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows that only 4 percent of Latinos and African-Americans are in the physician workforce.

So the message being sent nationally to medical schools is simple – create a more diverse physician workforce.

One school not only taking the directive to heart but actually leading the way is Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) . The relatively new institution, which serves the stressed Camden, New Jersey area, is already showing positive results that should in time help diversify doctors in the region.

“We haven’t graduated a class yet – we’re in our third year of running as a medical school – but our numbers in terms of underrepresented students are 24 percent for our first-year class, 22 percent for our second-year class and 19 percent for our third-year class,” CMSRU Associate Dean for Diversity and Community Affairs Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams told VOXXI.

“That’s more than double the national average among percentages of underrepresented students for schools that are not specifically underrepresented schools.”

CMSRU boasts a mission focused on developing highly skilled and socially conscious physician leaders who value a patient-centered team approach to healthcare.

While getting more minority students into the pipeline has been talked about for a decade, Mitchell-Williams said the flexibility that comes from CMSRU’s recent opening plays to its strength towards this end.

“The accrediting agency has now really put a lot of pressure on medical schools to beef up their diversity initiative,” Mitchell-Williams said. “Some of the older schools are really struggling with that. I get calls from other schools because we’ve done such a good job in addressing diversity issues.”

What other schools are calling about are CMSRU’s pipeline programs and service learning opportunities. Also, the university actively recruits underrepresented medical minority students to more closely resemble the changing demographics of New Jersey. That means picking students not only because of their MCAT scores and GPAs but taking community outreach, student performance overall and life experience into consideration.

“It’s much more important to make sure we have a physician population that matches that diversity,” Mitchell-Williams said. “So we make programs available for students from underrepresented backgrounds as a way to get them into our pipeline. We have our students participate in service learning within our community so other underrepresented students realize that medicine and science is something that’s an option for them.”

The CMSRU curriculum includes 40 hours of service in Camden per student each academic year. During the 2013-2014 academic year, more than 5,000 service hours were completed by 114 students.

One of those pipeline programs is PULSE (Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment program), an intensive 6-week summer enrichment course for college students interested in careers in medicine, particularly those with backgrounds underrepresented in medicine. Currently, eight PULSE alumni attend CMSRU, while seven other alums are currently enrolled at other medical schools.

“If they’re not seeing other people that look like them in those types of positions and jobs, then they’ll never realize it’s something that they can achieve,” Mitchell-Williams said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been really able to do a great job in addressing.”

In fact, CMSRU students recently won first place in a national AAMC video challenge. The school will be awarded $7,000 to use for supplemental high school science classes taught by students through Rowan University’s Upward Bound for English Language Learners program in Camden.

Medical students serve as volunteer teachers for the program, providing supplementary science education to high achieving, English-language learners who attend high school in Camden. The science enrichment curriculum encourages teens to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I think people need to look at the populations of the communities they serve and try to as best they can match that,” Mitchell-Williams said. “To me, having a majority student who is still very engaged in giving back to a community and being a part of the community, living in the community and being able to understand the need of that community is just as important as having an underrepresented student.

“The key part is having that whole diversity of students who can help one another and also help the community.”

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Date Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 11:45
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