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.
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.
“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.
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.