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State education officials lack concern about educating Black doctors

Ed Towns | 2/4/2016, noon
The New York Department of Education is seeking to prohibit approved Caribbean medical schools from entering into any new affiliation ...
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Working on behalf of the powerful medical school establishment across the state, the New York Department of Education is seeking to prohibit approved Caribbean medical schools from entering into any new affiliation agreements with New York hospitals to help train their students.

Medical schools in New York are supporting the Department of Education because they want to ensure that their students get access to all the hospital clerkships—a training regime necessary to become a physician—and not have to worry about Caribbean schools taking any of the slots.

However, what the Department of Education and the medical establishment in New York are unwilling to consider is the fact that Caribbean medical schools are doing a good job of educating African-Americans to become doctors, where as American medical schools are failing miserably.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 1978, 1,410 Black men applied to U.S. medical schools. In 2014, that number had fallen to 1,337. These numbers are shocking, because in recent years, medical schools have added to their class sizes and across higher education, more Black people are entering and graduating from college than ever before.

This long-term and systemic failure by American medical schools to educate Blacks and other minorities to become doctors has led to massive shortages of both Black and Hispanic physicians. In the United States, African-Americans represent 14 percent of the population but just 4 percent of physicians, and Latinos represent 16 percent of the population but only 5 percent of physicians.

Something else to consider is that by 2025, the AAMC estimates that the entire United States will be suffering from a severe doctor shortage. The high end of their estimate is that this country will need 90,000 more doctors. This development means the doctor shortage in the African-American community will continue growing worse for years to come unless we do something.

Thankfully, someone is doing something about the shortage of Black doctors: Caribbean medical schools. At the American University of Antigua College of Medicine, almost 16 percent of the students there are Black and only about a quarter of the students are white. In American medical schools, less than 7 percent of all medical students are Black.

Despite the success of these Caribbean medical schools at educating Blacks and other minorities, critics of these partnerships—between the Caribbean schools and the New York hospitals—assert that the Caribbean schools should not be allowed to pay New York hospitals to provide clinical clerkships. Medical schools in New York say this arrangement makes it harder for their (mostly white) students to find clerkships because American medical schools refuse to pay the hospitals. The Caribbean schools pay the hospitals because it’s a win-win for the financially cash-strapped hospitals and the deserving students.

There is also no evidence that students attending New York-based medical schools have been unable to get clerkships because of the affiliations between Caribbean schools and some New York hospitals. However, evidence that American medical schools are failing to educate minorities is worsening.

The New York Department of Education should end this discrimination against approved Caribbean medical schools. Allowing the partnerships between Caribbean medical schools and New York teaching hospitals to continue is a vital part of educating minority physicians in New York. Without these partnerships, the shortage of Black and minority doctors will only grow worse in the Empire State.

Ed Towns, a Democrat, served as a U.S. congressman from Brooklyn from 1993 to 2013 and served as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1991 to 1993.