When the first class of 135 medical students who enrolled at Touro Medical College graduated in 2011, 47 percent were white, 6 percent were black, 7 percent were Latino, and most of the remainder reported Middle Eastern, Asian, or Southeast Asian heritage, according to the school's data.
Altogether, about 14 percent of the students that Touro dispatched for additional training in hospitals around the country were members of racial or ethnic groups that the Health and Human Services Department has long described as underrepresented among U.S. medical students and practicing physicians. As recently as a few years ago, just over 6 percent of all medical students were black, 8 percent were Latino, 20 percent were Asian, and nearly 58 percent were white, a 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges report found.
Those figures weren't simply a measure of opportunity in the medical profession, the study's authors found. "Current evidence supports the notion that greater workforce diversity may lead to improved public health, primarily through greater access to care for underserved populations and better interactions between patients and health professionals," the AAMC report found.
Brittney Phillips, 26, is a dual MBA and medical student at Howard University in Washington. She is also the chair of the Student National Medical Association, the student arm of the similarly named black doctors' professional association created during the 100-year period when black doctors were not admitted to the American Medical Association.
It's in that role that Phillips hears from undergraduates interested in medical school. Many minority students do not have a family member or close acquaintence who has been to medical school to steer them through the process or write a letter of recommendation that might bolster an application, Phillips says. In some cases, that disadvantage may be layered on top of a lifetime of poverty, access to lower quality schools, or even the tempered expectations of guidance counselors who steer minority students away from challening science and math courses, Phillips says.
"There's a lot going on," says Phillips. "But the bottom line is that we have to be very serious about changing who goes to medical school if we want to provide the best care possible to our changing population. We can't escape that."
At Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, early figures describe classes that were more diverse than many others around the country but less heterogeneous than Touro had expected, Palmer says. "I think Touro sort of naïvely thought, 'We're here on 125th Street—recruiting a diverse student body won't be a challenge,' " says Palmer.
When Palmer took on his current role at Touro in 2012, the school's admissions team continued all the normal activities associated with student recruitment. But Palmer also brought a second layer of recruiting activity to historically black colleges and universities around the country and those that serve large black and Latino student populations. Other administrators at the school set up new programs that bring junior-high and high-school students to the medical school's 125th Street campus for one-time events and even regularly scheduled, credit-granting science courses.