First we need to identify which minorities we're talking about. Doctor James Phillips, Dean of Medical Education at Baylor College of Medicine, says African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans account for about 25 percent of the national population, but they're under-represented in the medical professions.
"Only nine percent of the nurses, six percent of the physicians, and four percent of the dentists. So that is a great under-representation."
As recently as 1992, Baylor had one African American and six Hispanic medical students. Phillips was hired in 1993 to bring those numbers up, and he says he's proud to report that 24 percent of this year's first year class at Baylor are under represented minorities. That dramatic turnaround is typical of what's happening at other Texas medical schools.
"In fact the leading school in the country this year is UTMB Galveston, where they have 33 percent of their first year class who are under represented minorities."
Because medical schools everywhere are working so hard to recruit minority students, the problem of low enrollment appears to have more to do with family economics and a lack of information than with overt, or even covert discrimination. Medical school is so expensive that few people who're not wealthy or well off can afford it, without a lot of financial aid. Doctor Kenneth Shine, vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System, says that's a problem the state can solve.
"We clearly need substantial additional financial aid for medical students, particularly from economically limited backgrounds, because this debt problem is such a frightening thing for families that have never considered any kind of debt."
The University of Texas system is spending more money to make medical school a reality for more minorities and Doctor Shine says the effort is paying off.
"UT Medical Branch last year graduated more Hispanics than any other medical school in the continental United States. Only the medical school at Puerto Rico had more graduates. I'm very pleased that at Southwestern and at San Antonio we've seen a doubling of the number of African-Americans."
This is happening because medical schools are sending recruiters to high schools and universities all over Texas to convince minority students that a medical career is possible for them. Tomorrow in part 3, we'll talk with some minority medical students to get their thoughts on all this. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.