Only 5% of the medical doctors in the United States are Black, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, but that is likely to change.
On Thursday, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced it is infusing four medical schools at Historically Black Colleges and Universities with a gift of $100 million, which will provide financial aid to more than 50% of the nearly 800 students currently enrolled there.
For the four medical schools – Meharry Medical College, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science – it is the largest donation ever received. It is one that not only serves to mitigate potential hardships for students but also provide them opportunities to continue their education and eventually serve those in need.
“COVID-19 has been especially devastating for the Black community, and the scarcity of Black doctors practicing in Black communities is one reason for it,” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the former mayor of New York City. “The burden of student debt and lack of financial aid means that the shortage of Black doctors could get even worse. More Black doctors will mean more Black lives saved and fewer health problems that limit economic opportunity.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies noted in its research that Black patients have better outcomes when treated by Black doctors. Most of those patients looking for medical care seek out Black doctors, but there are not enough practicing physicians to serve those communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that shortage has presented a crisis, where National Urban League statistics show that Black people are three times more likely as whites to contract coronavirus and twice as likely to die from it. They have suffered the highest death rate of any demographic group.
The gift, the first from the Greenwood Initiative to empower generational wealth among Black families, will allow students to remain on their current tracks and eventually be there to serve those patients. The importance of the donation to those specific medical schools cannot be undersold, according to the AAMC. Those schools have produced as many Black doctors over the past decade as the 10 top schools with the most Black graduates outside of it have.
“Healthcare disparities exist for a myriad of reasons related to systemic infrastructural issues, not the least of which is the dearth of Black doctors,” said Dr. Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University. “Black doctors with cultural competency are a major part of the solution, but their path is often hampered by a compromised financial situation. This gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies is the first stone dropped into a calm lake of opportunity and promise. The ripple effects that it will have on the lives of our students and our programs will carry on for generations.”
Individual scholarships could be as much as $100,000, or $25,000 for each year through 2024. The key for those students currently burdened with debt but are graduating in the next two years is that the aid can be retroactive, giving them more financial mobility in the future. Each of the four colleges will determine eligibility and whether grants can be utilized for tuition and fees. The donation also includes wrap-around services such as financial counseling for students.
“This transformative gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies will significantly ease the burden of debt for our students, allowing them to make the decision of what and where they practice based on passion, not a paycheck,” said Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College. “Meharry graduates overwhelmingly choose to go into primary care so they can make the largest impact on the most people. But primary care, particularly in rural areas, does not provide the same level of financial security as other medical specialties.”
By ensuring stability, future Black doctors could be able to serve more communities, rather than choosing specialties that help pay off debt.
Dr. David M. Carlisle, president and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science said it will help “in creating greater health in communities of color. It helps relieve the crushing burden of medical school student debt for low-income African-American students, particularly the great number who wish to set up a practice in medically under-resourced communities of color.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies is not only helping to serve Black medical students through the initiative but is also partnering with leaders and organizations to advocate for efforts that increase economic and social mobility in the Black community.
“We believe that instilling cultural competence in our future physicians is a key part of closing the health equity gap,” said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine. “With the generosity of Bloomberg, we can increase our investment in the next generation of clinicians and researchers in ways that advance prosperity and increase the quality of life in communities thought to be out of reach. For us, it’s about creating innovative strategies for science and healthcare that pave the bridge to a brighter future.”
Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at [email protected]