“Something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear ...” — Buffalo Springfield

I’ve been following with interest in The Daily News the proposals to reform high- performing middle schools. As a child of immigrants, I know education is an elevator to a better life, the great leveler in American or any society. A good teacher, mentor or school can make the difference between a life of fulfillment and joy, and one of quiet desperation and financial lack.

As a medical school faculty member, I interview potential students for admission. The students interviewed are carefully vetted from thousands of applicants for 240 positions in the first-year medical school class.

Admirably, many applicants report they’re committed to addressing the health care needs of the underserved. They usually have demonstrated that in service at homeless shelters, food banks, street clinics and other volunteer activities.

The University of Texas Medical Branch has long supported diversity in our students. Our applicants represent Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, African American, Middle Eastern, Indian and other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Many are like me, “first in the family” to go to college. They often come from families of low-income, recent immigrants, who are themselves underserved medically.

In the interviews, however, I notice a strange absence of Black men. This phenomenon isn’t new. Black men in white coats continue to be rare. They might not have had mentors, role models or social connections to help them have a leg up the ladder to a higher education in medicine. Financial constraints are common.

The admissions process is heavily dependent on standardized test scores like the Medical College Admissions Test. The Black men and women, Hispanic, Native American and immigrant family applicants have often not had the opportunity to attend the best schools or afford high-priced prep courses to be competitive in the MCAT. As a result, a test score becomes a choke point that excludes some of the very people best motivated to serve their communities.

This creates a disparity in not only who provides primary care to our multi-racial/ethnic populations but also leads to disparities in outcomes of care, impacts on longevity, medical complications, hospitalizations, COVID and more.

While 33 percent of our U.S. population come from under-represented minority groups, only 7.7 percent of full-time medical school faculty come from these groups. In a survey of U.S. medical school graduates, only 5.7 percent were Black or African Americans and 4.6 percent Hispanic or Latinos. White and Asian graduates were at 58.8 percent and 19.8 percent, respectively.

This is a shocking mismatch of future physicians to serve a population that looks like them with the same cultural roots, especially in a state like Texas where around 50 percent of our population is now non-white.

The development of a diverse primary care workforce and medical school faculty starts far upstream with robust education in reading and science, technology, engineering the arts and math, or STEAM, subjects from an early age. Our school system is critical to building a pipeline through equitable and excellent learning opportunities for all, particularly our most vulnerable young people from minority homes and neighborhoods. Support it in every way you can.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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(3) comments

Sue Emmite

[thumbup]

Bailey Jones

[thumbup]

Charlotte O'rourke

I always enjoy reading Dr. Sierpina’s editorials.

The question, however, needs to be expanded to black women. When I was first in the health care field female doctors were rare. Now female doctors are not rare, but black doctors - female and male - are still a small percentage of our doctors. And that’s a shame.

As a society we need to have an intelligent discussion about that.

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