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Best Practices

Diversity Recruitment Programs

Contributed by Samantha Sass

In 2008, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study on racial/ethnic diversity in medical schools nationwide. It found that less than 7% of medical students were African American, 8% were Hispanic, just over 20% were Asian/Asian Pacific Islander, and less than 1% were American Indian or Alaskan or Hawaiian Native. In addition to much needed increases in diversity amongst medical school students, the JAMA study also stressed the importance of diversity-education training as foundational for comprehensive medical training. To enable these changes, underrepresented minorities and students from underserved communities must be recruited and supported through graduate school with expansive recruitment, retention, training, mentorship, and financial aid mechanisms.

For this month’s spotlight on Best Practices, the efforts to decrease educational disparities at several universities and programs are described. These programs help to make medical school, as well as all health professional schools and science and engineering graduate programs, an attainable educational goal for all promising students.

The medical school at George Washington University hosted its second annual DC Health & Academic Prep Program, a summer program for Washington, D.C. area high school students, aimed at preparing underrepresented minorities and underserved students for college and medical school admission. Students who take part in the program (Scholars) learn about various health-care jobs and attain academic skills which enable them to successfully complete academic programs which prepare them for medical school. Given the disparities in educational preparedness between students from well-funded and under-funded high schools, this type of program is crucial for students who wish to go on to medical school but who have not had the academic resources to achieve this goal. This program can also be pivotal for students who never viewed medical school as an attainable, or even plausible, aspiration.

In order to address the social and institutional set-backs that students may encounter, the 16 Scholars are paired with mentors currently enrolled in medical school or other health professional programs, many of whom are underrepresented minorities or come from disadvantaged backgrounds. These mentor relationships are intended to last for the duration of the program and continue throughout the Scholars’ academic careers. In addition to the academic, social, and career support offered by this program, Scholars receive a $1,000 stipend for participation and a $4,800 scholarship for college tuition fees.

Georgetown University Medical School offers a similar program aimed at recruiting promising college students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) Program is a year-long “medical school boot-camp” which prepares college graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds for medical school by teaching advanced course material, study and test skill preparation, and offering support for students. The program aims to help students who have followed a nontraditional pre-med course, but who nonetheless show great promise for success in medical school.

Begun in 1988, the Meyerhoff Program at the University of Maryland - Baltimore County (UMBC) offers undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in an intensive scientific career-training program. All Meyerhoff students are enrolled in UMBC and major in scientific and engineering fields, while also participating in Meyerhoff programming such as summer sessions, internship experience, course preparation, group-work, and mentoring. The Meyerhoff program accepts students of all background who are committed to increasing the representation of minorities in science and engineering. Students are aided by mentors, professors, family, and peers through supportive networks and mentor programs. Over 800 students have participated in the Program, many of whom go on to earn advanced degrees in medicine, engineering, and science-related fields.

What began as an experimental program aimed at increasing enrollment of African American men in science-related graduate schools has become an excellent program renowned for its success in improving rates of enrollment of all students from diverse backgrounds. The program also exemplifies the ideal of comprehensive student support, including institutional inclusion, professor and alumni mentorship, and financial aid; all of which help to make medical and health-professional school, as well as careers as independent scientific researchers, a reality for all students.

In a similar program at Rutgers University, undergraduate students prepare for medical, health professional and science-related graduate programs through intensive coursework and mentoring. Sponsored by the Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences (ODASIS), the program is dedicated to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. After students are accepted to Rutgers they can apply to the ODASIS program, which includes study halls, group study sessions, additional homework and testing courses, and mentoring from program advisors on a bimonthly basis. For students with a high GPA, they may also enroll in an admissions test-preparation course. As a result of the rigorous program, last year 50 out of 58 students were accepted into medical, dentistry, osteopathy, podiatry, nursing, and graduate biomedical sciences schools.

According to Kamal Kahn, the associate director of the program, as quoted in the Rutgers newspaper, “The key to ODASIS is nurturing, by showing [students] avenues to success, you’re helping them mature.” The program offers all promising students the chance to develop their scientific skills in preparation for advanced degrees and careers. Since its inception in 1994, the program has become a national model for student success and increased enrollment of diverse students in graduate programs.

The holistic focus of all of these institutions and programs promotes their success in recruiting, enrolling, and graduating promising young students in science-related fields. With minorities representing a disproportionately low number of medical, health professional, and science students, these programs offer essential career counseling and preparedness services at critical points in a student’s career. By focusing on personal, institutional, educational, and financial barriers to career success, these programs offer students a viable path toward advanced degrees and careers in science. These programs represent crucial initiatives that will hopefully increase diversity, improve medical and scientific training, and open doors for all promising students.

Student Body Racial and Ethnic Composition and Diversity-Related Outcomes in US Medical Schools (JAMA)

Medical Schools Use Outreach Programs to Make Student Bodies More Diverse (The Washington Post)


This page last updated: December 18, 2014

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