Why Increasing Black Men In Medicine Is Essential

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the National Medical Association (NMA) recently announced a joint effort to convene the Action Collaborative for Black Men in Medicine in an effort to address the lack of representation of African American men in medicine. This effort follows a 2015 AAMC report, Altering the Course: Black Males in Medicine, that brought attention to this national crisis, noting there were more Black men applying and matriculating to medical schools in 1978 than in 2014. Since 2014, there has been only a small increase in the enrollment of Black men in medical school, from 2.4% during 2014-2015 academic year to roughly 3% in 2021 – 2022. African American men account for a mere 3% of doctors.

Recently, medical schools, as well as health and education organizations, have increased their efforts to address this important issue. Why is it important, you might ask? In addition to fostering equity and opportunity for African American men, research demonstrates that individuals are more likely to go to the doctor and to be honest with their doctor about their health concerns if their doctor is the same race, and to a lesser extent gender. According to a 2020 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by four researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, African American patients have a better experience when their doctor is the same race. Moreover, according to a 2022 Gallop poll, 53% of African Americans find it difficult to locate a same race doctor.

Having high quality and culturally sensitive access to health care is essential for African Americans personally, and is vital to the pursuit of equity as a nation. African Americans experience higher rates of hypertension, stroke, and heart disease and African American men “have the lowest life expectancy of any demographic group, living on average 4.5 fewer years that white men.” Several factors contribute to the health disparities faced by African Americans, but these disparities are exacerbated by the lack of African American doctors available in the United States.

The AAMC and the NMA recognize that there is a need to focus on systemic change and increased collaboration across the education pipeline to address persistent barriers that Black men face. Thus, the Action Collaborative is comprised of experts from myriad disciplines who have identified premedical, academic medicine, socio-cultural factors at the base of the problem. After two years of planning, the Action Collaborative is now moving into its next phase, which requires engaging a broader range of partners in K-12, higher education, academic medicine, professional organizations, community-based organizations, and other key stakeholders to work together to refine a national action agenda, and plan for the implementation and evaluation of system-wide solutions.

To achieve this goal, the Action Collaborative held a Strategy Summit during which they crafted a plan for the next 3 years. Summit participants included representatives from K-12 education, foundations, healthcare companies, national science and health professional organizations, federal government agencies, current medical school students, and medical school faculty and administrators.

During the Summit, participants identified factors across three areas that influence the pipeline and trajectory of Black boys and men interested in medicine – premedical, academic medicine, and socio-cultural factors. According to leaders at the Action Collaborative, “Pre-medical factors include the quality of public education, funding, advising, and access to support systems. Factors related to academic medicine include pathway programs, recruitment, admissions and leadership accountability for diversity. All of these factors are embedded in institutional and societal structures and socio-cultural environments that have been shaped by systemic racism, negative narratives of Black men, and institutional cultures and climates that are not inclusive of Black men.”

As a follow up to the Summit, the Action Collaborative will: engage in listening sessions with stakeholders to obtain feedback on the action agenda; onboard more individuals, organizations and institutions that will join the AC coalition and serve as collaborators to develop, invest in and implement an action agenda; and implement and monitor progress of the action agenda. The hope, according to the Action Collaborative partners, is that a systemic approach to the problem will lead to system-wide, long-lasting change in representation, and in the experiences of African American doctors, while also bringing equity and culturally relevant care to the Black population overall.

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