Minority Enrollment in Medical Schools Rises

In this April 19, 2012, photo, students work in the operating rooms at the University of South Florida's new $38 million Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulations Center in Tampa, Fla. The center expects to draw more than 30,000 health professionals from around the world every year wanting to hone their surgical skills. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (National Journal)

While still severely underrepresented, racial minorities are making healthy gains in medical school enrollments, according to recent study showing minorities closing the gap.

(RELATED AP STORY: Mexican Dreamer Opts to Pursue Med School in U.S.)

American Indians and Alaska Natives made the most gains this year after seeing a slight dip in 2011, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit that represents all 150 accredited medical schools in the U.S. and Canada.

Enrollment for this relatively small population increased by 11.9 percent to 430 aspiring doctors, from last year's 379. American Indians and Alaska Natives account for only 0.9 percent of 2012 medical school students and 1.7 percent of the total U.S. population.

David Baines, a physician and member of the Tlingit and Tsimshian tribes, describes the culture shock of moving from his reservation in Alaska to the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., the Native American Times reported. He credits student and professional organizations, such as the Association of Native American Medical Students, with helping him succeed.

"Growing up in an isolated reservation in Alaska, going to medical school was a big shock, especially culturally," he recalls. "I was very isolated as the first and only American Indian or Alaska Native student at Mayo Medical School."

The study's figures also shows blacks and Latinos applied to medical school at record-high numbers, 3,824 and 3,701, respectively.

Total enrollment, plus increase, by race and ethnicity (pdf) for 2012:

  • Whites: 28,016, up 2.4 percent.
  • Asians: 10,542, up 5.6 percent.
  • Blacks: 3,824, up 5.1 percent.
  • Hispanics: 3,701, up 7 percent.
  • Foreign: 1,713, up 4 percent.
  • American Indians and Native Alaskans: 430, up 11.9 percent
  • Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders: 171, up 8.2 percent.

Overall, more than 45,000 people applied to medical school, a 3.1 percent increase from 2011. First-time applicants also went up by 3.4, signaling an even stronger interest in medicine, according to the nonprofit.

A physician shortage of about 90,000 is expected over the next decade, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Of the 17,364 medical school graduates in 2011, about 7.7 percent were Latino, 6.5 percent black, 21.7 percent Asian, 0.8 percent American Indian and Alaska Native, and 62.1 percent white, according to cumulative state figures from Kaiser Health News.

In 2008, about three of every four physicians in the U.S. was white, the AAMC reports.