Minorities in Med School: Part 1

State officials and medical educators say Texas MUST get more minorities into medical schools, to have any hope of meeting the medical needs and demands of the state's growing minority population. Today, in part 1 of a series on this problem, Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports as low as minority enrollments are, there are signs of a turnaround.

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Minority enrollment in Texas medical schools declined sharply in 1996, when the courts ruled in the famous Hopwood case that race could not be used a factor in deciding admissions. The numbers stayed low until 2004 when the U-S Supreme Court reversed the Hopwood ruling. Since then, minority enrollments are up at some medical schools, but they're still at less than 20 percent statewide, and medical educators are concerned.

Doctor Stanley Fisch of the Texas Medical Association's Council on Medical Education says this is important because society benefits from a diverse workforce, and medicine is no different.

"We're a mixed group, we're a mixed bunch, so the public, the body politic is best served by having a diverse workforce, a healthcare workforce. It's more responsive, it's more in tune with people's needs, just with the way people kind of express themselves and present themselves for care. So, yeah, it affects everybody."

Dr. Fisch says it's human nature that when people have a choice, many prefer a doctor of their own race. He says there's evidence that they also get a higher level of care because they're more open, more forthcoming, and less inhibited with a doctor who looks like them.

Since the Hopwood decision was reversed two years ago, Texas medical schools have been actively recruiting and attracting minorities, but nowhere near as many as they would like. Fisch says that's because many well qualified minority students are getting better offers from out of state.

"Out of state schools, especially the ones that have very lofty reputations, Harvard, Stanford, Johns-Hopkins and such, have the ability, they have the means to offer very lavish and tempting scholarship and financial aid packages to the same minority students that we're trying to recruit."

Fisch says Texas is also hampered by its underfunded graduate medical residency program, which is forcing many medical school graduates to go out of state to do their residencies. He says the state needs to do two things. Put more money into scholarships and financial aid, and restore graduate education funding for residents.

"Because studies have shown over and over that physicians will tend to remain close to where they do their residencies. It's not so much where they graduate from medical school, but where they do their residencies that seems to have the greater influence on their decisions about where to locate and establish their practices."

Tomorrow, in part 2 of this series, we'll talk with officials at the two biggest medical schools in the state -- one public, one private -- about what they're doing to increase minority enrollments. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

Minorities in Med School: Part 2

Minorities in Med School: Part 3

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