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As DO school enrollment soars, black students plunge in number, proportion

Although enrollment at osteopathic medical schools soared by 35% from 2006 to 2010, the number of black students declined, according to data in the AOA’s recently posted 2011 Osteopathic Medical Profession Report.

In 2006-07, osteopathic medical schools enrolled 588 black students, 4.1% of the total student population of 14,409. In 2010-11, 576 black students attended DO schools—just 3.0% of 19,427 enrollees.

Dr. Anderson

The AOA’s first African-American president, William G. Anderson I, DO, attributes the declining number of black osteopathic medical students to the economic recession. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

In contrast, students of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage rose in proportion from 16.6% to 19.4% during that period, while Hispanic students increased in number by 113 but fell slightly in proportion, from 3.8% to 3.4%. Native American and Alaskan native enrollment grew by 41 students, resulting in a negligible proportional gain of 0.1%.

“The decrease in African-American enrollment is a sign of the economic recession,” says William G. Anderson I, DO, who became the AOA’s first and still only black president in 1994. “It is more difficult for African-American students to get the money they need to attend medical school than it was a few years ago. Fewer grants are available. And students from families making around $25,000 a year may be afraid to assume a debt load of as much as $200,000.”

Although allopathic medical schools have also struggled to recruit underrepresented minorities, the proportion of black MD students is more than double that of black DO students. According to a report on physician workforce diversity by the Association of American Medical Colleges, black enrollees constituted 8% of all MD students in 2008-09.

Source: AOA

“African-American students with high MCAT scores and high GPAs can go anywhere,” says Dr. Anderson, who serves on the Michigan Osteopathic Association’s Minority Recruitment Committee. “They are sought after by Harvard and other prestigious MD schools, which are well-endowed and can offer full scholarships to students in financial need.”

While the American Osteopathic Foundation’s endowed William G. Anderson I, DO, Minority Scholarship awards $5,000 annually to a top-notch minority osteopathic medical student with leadership skills, this money alone does not make a significant dent in total tuition costs, Dr. Anderson points out.

“I would like to see osteopathic medical colleges offer full scholarships to African-American and other minority students from low-income families,” says Dr. Anderson, the vice president of academic affairs for osteopathic medicine at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit. He notes, however, that Michigan law prevents the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) in East Lansing and other public educational institutions from giving preferential consideration to minorities.

Another hurdle to recruitment, few black Americans are familiar with the osteopathic medical profession, Dr. Anderson notes. “I would guess only 1% of African-Americans have heard of osteopathic medicine,” he contends.

Promoting the profession

Obstetrician and gynecologist Draion M. Burch, DO, proposes several strategies for increasing the number of black men and women enrolled in osteopathic medical schools.

Dr. Burch

As the vice president of the National Osteopathic Medical Association, Draion M. Burch, DO, is implementing strategies for recruiting more black students into osteopathic medical schools. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

With the economic downturn extinguishing many publicly funded pipeline programs that helped prepare minority youth for careers in medicine, the osteopathic medical profession should invest more extensively in such initiatives, one example of which is MSUCOM’s OsteoCHAMPS program, suggests Dr. Burch, the vice president of the National Osteopathic Medical Association (NOMA), an organization that aims to increase minority representation at all levels of the profession.

To attract more black applicants, Dr. Burch says, osteopathic medical schools need to forge partnerships with the country’s 105 historically black colleges and universities. Similarly, the profession needs to reach out to the premedical division of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), which addresses the needs and concerns of minority medical students.

“The osteopathic medical profession should have more of a presence at SNMA’s Annual Medical Education Conference,” says Dr. Burch, who served as the 2010-11 intern-resident representative on the AOA Board of Trustees. “Every year, the SNMA conference has a premed luncheon. I have been a speaker at this luncheon, as has Dr. Anderson and other NOMA leaders. But we also need to have more tables at the conference promoting osteopathic medicine.”

The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) exhibited at the SNMA’s 2011 conference. Though the main sponsors of the conference were two allopathic medical schools and a pharmaceutical company, three osteopathic medical schools counted among the approximately 40 co-sponsors: the Edward Via Virgina College of Osteopathic Medicine-Virginia Campus in Blacksburg, the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tenn., and the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine. In addition, AACOM and more than a dozen osteopathic medical colleges participated in the conference’s premed forum and recruitment fair.

What’s more, to promote the osteopathic medical profession to minority premed students, African-American DOs should become active alumni of their undergraduate institutions and speak to students about osteopathic medicine, says Dr. Burch, who has done so at his alma mater. Black osteopathic physicians, moreover, should provide shadowing opportunities to local minority undergraduate students, he suggests.

Creating supportive environment

Once black college students become interested in osteopathic medicine as a career, they need to feel welcomed and comfortable when they visit and interview at osteopathic medical schools, Dr. Burch notes. “For this to happen, it is essential for colleges of osteopathic medicine to hire more minority faculty and staff,” he says.

A 2007 graduate of the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens, Dr. Burch says he was fortunate to attend a school with several black faculty members and an office of minority affairs.

After enrolling in osteopathic medical school, “African-American students need mentors, who can provide professional guidance and support,” Dr. Burch says, noting that Dr. Anderson, whom he met as a medical student, greatly influenced his career path and desire to become a leader in the profession.

7 Responses

  1. Anonymous on Jan. 6, 2012, 4:17 p.m.

    I’m Caucasian and was accepted to an osteopathic medical school a couple year ago. Unfortunately, I had to decline because tuition was astronomical (even with the $5000 grant I received for being “below the poverty line”). With the exception of LECOM and maybe 2-3 public D.O. schools, osteopathic medical schools have tuition of $45,000+ This is because the majority are private (Something I WISH advisers would be more upfront about with undergrads).

    Becoming a Dr. was still my dream, so I kept going. Sadly, I had to put my dream on hold and base my decision on finances—either public MD school or LECOM. Why? Public MD schools have tuitions in the twenty-thousands and LECOM is the only private D.O. school with tuition in the twenty thousands. I had no chance of acceptance to the two public D.O. schools (North Carolina, Oklahoma)

    With my options narrowed, it took 3 applications seasons in a row for me to get accepted by a financially reasonable institution.

    Why can’t more D.O. schools be public?
    Public schools = $20,000/year in tuition
    Private schools = $40,000/year in tuition.

    Huge difference when you add on interest. It is incredibly risky taking on that kind of debt. Although I’m not African American, I’m thrilled this issue has been brought to the forefront. At this rate…promising physicians will go unnoticed and upper-class will dominate the profession. Upper-class can make GREAT doctors (all I’m saying is that the rising cost of medical school really narrows selection pool).

  2. Jeff Baird DO on Jan. 6, 2012, 5:39 p.m.

    How come not one member from any DO school has logged on to say the additional tuition is worth it do to the many benefits of having a DO degree. These of course include:
    Brand name recognition, since everyone knows what a DO is-“you guys prescribe glasses right? guess not.
    Increase in income from doing OMM-wait, I lost money every time I had a patient lie down for OMM, and got to fight with an insurance company to pay for it. Maybe not either.
    Because everyone equates your abilities with an MD-oops, see article regarding ACGME.
    Because with your degree you can go anywhere and practice-oops, again, check out letter from Canadian in same article.
    I went to a DO school for the same reason (studies published in the last year confirm this) as 2/3 of the students do, it is the same cost as going to the Caribbean but didn’t have to spend as many hours getting there (nor did I have to learn to speak Spanish). The difference is that I was bright enough to realize how great OMM was, of course if I were an MD, I could still be ignorant when I told a pt they had costochondritis not knowing it was simple rib dysfunction and think DO’s were idiots for believing they can actually do something about it.
    The fact is that with thelow cost of loans, paying them off still ins’t a big deal, although you really want to become an administrator at a DO school to really make money. (N.B.-you may need to register to see this)
    MWU-Tuition brought in $161,800,000 in 2009.
    MWU will soon be making $50,000,000 in tuition a year and really doesn’t have much costs for the 3rd and 4th year. Certainly with the millions they have in the bank they could toss a few scholarships to keep the profession less white. Of course when department heads are making in excess of $300,000 (the Dean at Glendale made over $316,000 in 2009), maybe that isn’t wise. Although they do make it up on their part time help.

  3. Alan Berg, D.O. on Jan. 7, 2012, 12:48 p.m.

    I very much regret Dr. Baird’s respose. He does a great disservice to the profession and to his peers. His comments are so contrary to my experiences in the osteopathic profession. I have always valued the close connection we as D.O.’s have with each other. I have always valued the differences that we in osteopathy have from our allopathic counterparts. His failure to embrace his profession sounds more like a unsatisfied individual who has not found his true vocation. I have never lacked any confidence regarding my training and have always felt better prepared and more adept at my craft than my MD friends. The issue of medical school cost is important and needs to be addressed further. Having said that I am somewhat confused as to what Dr. Baird felt he did not get for his money. He is a holder of a medical degree and is titled “Dr.” which appears to be all that he wanted. I for one wish that he had decided to go to a third rate carribean school as it would appear that he is ashamed of being an osteopathic physician. What a waste.

  4. dofellow on Jan. 7, 2012, 2:56 p.m.

    I don’t think that, frrom reading the comment that dr baird is ashamed to be a D.O. I feel thaat he iss pointing to the facts. There are limitations and bias towards DOs… especially outside of MI, PA, NY, MO, etc.
    It’s a disservice that DOs conclude that fellow DOs, like dr baird, that they’ re ashamed. To me, they’re living in a bubble. It’ s not the degree but the individual person who can make the best out of everything..some AOA programs are worse than most of acgme programs.and some acgme programs are worse than most AOA programs.
    i’m not ashamedof being a DO (my wife loves the OMM treatments). And very happy where i am. But you have to take the facts as facts, not to use shame as an excuse.

  5. LQ (Future DO) OMS III on May 17, 2012, 2:34 p.m.

    The cost of medical school is staggering and not to mention all the other costs that go along with it i.e. Boards, books, travel, clothing, food, various incidentals, etc. whether you are an MD or DO student. Do some medical schools cost more than others? Sure! But if you are willing to make the sacrifice financially to do what you are meant to do, then you can find a way to pay it off. As a third year DO student I am sitting on an ever growing mountain of debt, each day I am further in the red. It is daunting but not insurmountable feat to overcome. The main factor is time. It will take time for any student to pay off these loans. If I want to moonlight while in residency for an extra pay-check I have that option; if I decide to pursue work with Public Health Services or Military to help pay down this debt in less time for utilizing my skills in a needed area I can do so. It is just going to take time, (unless that rich uncle, that I have never met croaks and leaves me his millions). I guess my biggest concern for myself is not turning into a money hungry individual or become jaded by a broken system.

    As far as DO vs MD…To be honest I feel empowered as a DO. I love being an Osteopath and having the skill set to us manipulation in conjuction with pharmacotherapy and other means to treat patients. I think a problem is that the general public still doesn’t really know what a DO is. I feel that if we (the AOA primarily) were to market ourselves and OMT to the public more openly via TV and the Internet in medical and non-medical markets we could further increase demand for DOs and OMM. Regardless, after spending time with my fellow osteopathic colleagues I see a bright future for DOs.

  6. Bruce Peters, D.O. on May 18, 2012, 9:57 a.m.

    After well over 20+ years in the profession and working at all levels of the osteopathic academic world inclduing Dean, Dept. Chair, Medical Director, and Professor I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is not unique to our profession as I have worked on the allopathic side as well and although the grass make look greener it really isn’t. Each D.O. is blessed with a unique opportunity and privilage to serve as a physician in which very few people have the opportunity in life to do so. It then becomes what each individual physician that is a D.O. does with this opportunity that God has given them. Life is too short to worry about all the negative stuff that goes on and trying to convince the haters, but we should take advantage of each and every day in which we have breath to do something positive for our families, our patients, and our community.
    In regards to the original problem that was discussed, I agree with the opinions of Drs. Anderson and Burch in helping to find solutions. Being an URM growing up on the South side of Chicago with a single parent mom who was a maid most of her life, going to medical school was never a goal until I got to highschool. Growing up in an era where you got teased for being smart if you were black and then you add the fact I had to wear glasses to see, made me the brunt of many jokes. So as I hid my intelligence by being the class clown, it wasn’t until a teacher pulled me aside and saw something deeper in me and pushed me in a different direction than being a clown, gang banger, drug pusher, or anything else that pulled down my community. From there others mentored me after seeing my potential and through the grace of God the rest is history.
    Where I somewhat disagree with others is that there is such a small pool of qualified applicants that we are all competing to get, it will always be difficult to get above this 3% or less enrollment on the osteopathic side unless there is a committment from top to bottom in the osteopathic world including the AOA, COCA, AACOMAS, and every osteopathic medical school and their leadership. The profession has to do a better job of making not only the URM feel welcome but all students from diverse backgrounds and economic levels. I agree scholarships do help but that still isn’t enough and students will choose to go elsewhere unless there they feel they are valued, supported, have access for opportunites for the things they want to do, and can see diversity in leadership at all levels and especially with individuals that look like them.
    The AOA doesn’t have a link on the SNMA web site, doesn’t support the Pre-Med Forum of the SNMA as they should, and definitely doesn’t support the Residency Fair at the SNMA as they do on the allopathic side. We have to get the osteopathic leadership to look beyond their comfort zone and expand their thinking to working in partnerships with other professionals and organizations for the common good that benefits everyone. On the osteopathic side we still carry this aura that we are better than our allopathic colleagues, we don’t share residencies, and we make it very difficult for student to go from osteopathic to allopathic schools and vice versa. The reality is that we are not better than our allopathic colleagues and we are long over due to start working together with each other including the AOA, AMA, NOMA, NMA and other organizations. The truth is when we don’t work together our communities suffer and it especially hits hard in poor communities and those where minorities are in high numbers. We have to develop a pool of applicants that are qualified and competitive for this new era of medical education and this means creating a pipeline that starts in elementary school and mentoring these students and young faculty throughout their academic careers. The best example of this is the “Mentoring in Medicine” program headed by Lynne Holden, MD who having actively engaged the community to create a pipeline from elementary school through college matching them with mentors from a varity of health professions so that students can be actively connected to someone in a field they are interested in. The end result is not everyone is cut out to be a DO or MD, but there are many other options for careers in the health profession that students can enter into. Dr. Holden has actively engaged community partners including local schools to invest in these students futures and has received the support of academic institutions including medical schools to take a look at these new breed of applicants that have received mentoring and are now qualified to compete for admission in many different professional arenas including osteopathic and allopathic programs. The problem is not many communities and academic institutions are not willing to buy into this model of investing early and often with our youth in underserved communities and instead want maximum returns on minimum effort. The truth is there is no quick fixes to this problem without engaging the community and it’s leaders and partnering with academic institutions and others to take on this problem. If not that 3% of Afro-Americans attending osteopathic schools if that number is even real will be even lower going forward unless we all invest in working together to improve things by expanding the pool of qualified applicants at the elementary school level and beyond. For this to happen we have to change the way we think, how we recruit, the admission standards we set, and the way we teach and mentor. We must be willing at all levels of the osteopathic profession to create diversity and opportunities for everyone to be and stay involved. Drs. Anderson, Ross-Lee, Aguwa, Blake, Burch, Williams, Grace and others won’t be around forever so now is the time to bring others up along side them so that the profession will have actively engaged minority leaders who can be an encouragement to others and help grow the profession.
    If we don’t actively change our thinking the number of students that we see that enter DO schools, where a majority do allopathic residencies, and join their specialty organizations will continue to grow and the DO/MD distinction will become even less and the AOA will become irrelevant. So I bring the challenge back to the AOA and the osteopathic leadership who can choose to make a difference not forgetting the role that every DO has in providing mentorship regardless of race, creed, or religion. So if 3% or less is the goal, then we have done a great job these past 50-100 years or so. I would hopefully like the profession to strive for a new goal that is more reflective of our communities in which we live and invest all that is within them to achieve this engaging community partners and organizations, other academic institutions and affiliations, Government and Cooperate America and their contacts, the local medical organizations/societies, and anyone else who is impacted by this to get on board with outreaches and pipelines into underserved and minority communities early and often to create qualified applicants. If we look at “Beyond Flexnor” and the social determinants to health we will realize that not having quality health care including primary and preventive health services for everyone impacts us all no matter where we live or what we do. So let’s get it right and do something before its too late!

  7. DO Fellow II on May 22, 2012, 11:21 a.m.

    Thanks for the insightful remarks. I have said and continue to assert that the #1 problem facing DO’s currently is that we are “out growing” our resources. We continue to proliferate schools at a rate that is stretching our ability to provide post-graduate education. We must be careful to expand the profession thoughtfully w/ emphasis on quality post-graduate training. It is difficult to illicit the differences b/t MD’s and DO’s (which I think is a non-issue) while we depend on the ACGME to train a significant number of our graduates, especially in the sub-specialty arena. Growing for the sake of the numbers will hurt us eventually. I strongly believe quality over quantity. Please do not construe this as a knock against DO post graduate education, it is simply we are stretching it thin.


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