Programs Aim to Increase Number of Black Doctors

    23 September 2023

    The American Medical Association (AMA) recently said the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action dealt a "serious blow" to the medical field's goal of increasing the number of Black doctors.

    Affirmative action describes the idea that it is good for society to favor people who come from groups thought to have been discriminated against in the past.

    Earlier this year, the nation's high court ruled it is unlawful for colleges and universities to consider race in choosing students.

    Dr. Starling Tolliver, a dermatology resident at Wayne State University, works at Wayne Health in Dearborn, Michigan, on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
    Dr. Starling Tolliver, a dermatology resident at Wayne State University, works at Wayne Health in Dearborn, Michigan, on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

    Because the Supreme Court's decision includes medical schools, the AMA said the ruling will hurt "gains made in the battle against health inequities.

    Many medical schools used affirmative action ideas to increase the number of Black students. But even with those efforts, a University of California at Los Angeles study in 2021 said the percentage of Black doctors had only increased by four percent from 1900 to 2018.

    Experts believe increasing the number of Black doctors could help Black people's health. Right now, only six percent of physicians in the U.S. are Black but 13 percent of the population is Black.

    'A crisis of humanity'

    A series of reports by the Associated Press (AP) said that Black people do not get taken care of as well as white people starting at birth. The AP reported that patients said doctors ignored or brushed aside their concerns partly because of bias and racism within the U.S. medical system.

    Uché Blackstock is an emergency doctor in New York City. He wrote a book called Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine.

    He called the low number of Black doctors "a crisis of humanity."

    Starling Tolliver is a 30-year-old Black doctor trying to influence people's opinions. She is in her final year of residency – or training – in dermatology. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the skin. She is training at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

    As a girl growing up in the Midwestern city of Akron, Ohio, she felt like her dream of being a doctor was out of reach. She did not often see doctors who looked like her when she went for treatments for a condition that caused her to lose her hair.

    She stayed with her goal of becoming a doctor because she made an agreement with two friends. When they were young, they all said they wanted to be doctors, so they could help other Black people.

    One of the friends, Charmaine, became a nurse and one, Maria, died as a teenager. Tolliver said Maria's death made her work harder.

    "I'm going to continue to go on this path of medicine," Tolliver said. "Not only for myself, but for Maria, and to potentially help others in the future from similar backgrounds..."

    Minorities less likely to seek care for skin problems

    Tolliver's plan of being a skin doctor might be a good way to help Black people. The Association of American Medical Colleges says just 65 of almost 800 applicants for residencies in dermatology were Black in 2020. But many Blacks do not go to dermatologists for treatment.

    The AP reports that minority patients are half as likely to see dermatologists when compared to white patients. Also, more Black men die from skin cancer compared to men of other races. That information came from a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

    Dr. Ashley Wysong was one of the writers. She said 75 percent of white men survive skin cancer but only 52 percent of Black men do.

    She said if there is a difference in results for patients being treated for the same problem, "we have to look at ways that we are falling short."

    Efforts to support minorities in dermatology

    Some education experts say ending affirmative action might increase interest in medical schools at HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities. Morehouse College, in Atlanta, receives over 7,000 medical school applications each year for only 115 openings. The medical school's president and CEO is Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice. She said she expects the number of applicants to rise at Morehouse and other HBCU medical schools.

    Tolliver, the dermatology resident, said financial aid programs that target minority students who are interested in becoming doctors are important. The American Academy of Dermatology has a program called Pathways. Its goal is to increase the number of minority dermatology residents from 100 in 2022 to 250 by 2027. The program aims to help young people who are interested in medicine and guide them into dermatology.

    It targets high school students and supports them as they go to college and medical school. Some receive financial aid.

    Tolliver received financial aid from Ohio State University for her studies, but she also believes Pathways was important for her later training.

    Financial aid and mentoring

    Azariah Providence is a 17-year-old high school student who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She hopes to be a dermatologist one day. She joined the Pathways program last month. She wants to be a skin doctor so she can help other girls who have skin problems like she did.

    She said she never had a chance to talk with and learn from minority college students and doctors before. Providence said it is important for Black people to learn to care for skin because some problems appear differently on Black skin than white skin.

    She hopes more people who look like her can get "a correct diagnosis...and the correct treatment," from dermatologists.

    Adam Friedman is a dermatologist and the leader of the department at George Washington School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. He said updating textbooks is important, but programs such as Pathways are very important.

    As Tolliver finishes her training, she said she hopes she can push dermatologists to seek better outcomes – especially for Black women. She said her goal since childhood has been "for Black women to see the beauty of themselves, within themselves."

    I'm Caty Weaver. And I'm Dan Friedell.

    Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    inequities –n. unfair or unequal things

    bias –n. to lean to one side; to not be balanced but, instead, to show only one side

    potentially –adv. something that could be or has the possibility of becoming real

    applicant –n. a person who is seeking entry into a school or trying to get a job; anyone who applies to get something

    diagnosis –n. the act or process of finding out what disease, illness, sickness or other problem affects a patient