The long-term effects of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority communities has yet to play out, but one silver lining has emerged.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Black medical student enrollment has increased by 21% in the past year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Currently, African-Americans account for just 5% of the entire physician population nationally, though about 14% of the general U.S. population.
Michellene Davis, CEO of National Medical Fellowships (NMF), said the boost in Black med-school enrollment is likely the result of the family members lost to COVID-19, as well as an increase in awareness about th structural inequities that exist in the health care system.
She noted that advocates of health equity “have been talking about how structural and systemic racism and inequity has really created vulnerable communities across this country.”
Reports documenting health-care inequities have existed for years, but the conversation has taken center stage during the pandemic, she said.
“We are done dying,” Davis said. “I believe that we are seeing right now that students have said, ‘Not only are we done dying, but we are also at a point where we realize that we are an aspect of the answer. We are the actual solution for our own communities,'” she said.
Having a more equitable representation of caregivers is just one step in the right direction. As is holding companies and health-care systems to account, Davis said.
“Well that means if you have to face your implicit bias, not once a year in some diversity and inclusion training, that means on a daily basis you as a health care practitioner must challenge your understanding … that historically, health care has literally been built on the backs of impoverished and oppressed individuals,” Davis said.
That’s why Davis left a an executive position with a large health-care system to lead NMF amid the pandemic.
“I came here to ensure the pipeline of BIPOC physician leaders. We need to make certain that these individuals are poised and given the opportunity to lead the systems and structures that we have already known for years … need to change,” Davis said.
“We need to make certain that they’re having access to the opportunities that prepare them, equip them, not just recruit them, but then create environments in which they can thrive, not just survive, in order to ensure that they’re matriculating to leadership positions,” she said. “And that … may finally get us over the trenches and actually to the land of health equity.”
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