Affording minority children and youth greater chances of entering the health professions by revamping the nation’s primary and secondary school systems means major changes in public policy, researchers say.
Research finds that one of the greatest obstacles to greater racial and ethnic diversity in the health professions is the failure of grade-school education, especially public school education, nationwide, to meet the needs of minority and low-income students in kindergarten through the senior year of high school.
In fact, disparities in academic performance occur as early as kindergarten, the data suggests. By high school, more than one in five Hispanics and one in ten African Americans drop out of school, compared with one in seventeen white students, researchers say.
The result is a derailment of many minority youth at what researchers call the “early stages of the health career educational pipeline”.
Worse still, while the number of minorities enrolling in medical school rose in the past 25 years, minority children and youth were still experiencing unequal access and accommodation in grade and high schools. As a result, the nation’s medical establishment faces the task of plugging the ever-widening racial and ethnic gap in the health professions. Researchers say disparities before college must be addressed. Sustained effort at the fore of the educational pipeline will deliver a pool of students prepared for success in the nation’s medical schools and allied health professions. This means intervention at the grade-school, high school and college level of academic instruction of minority youth.
Researchers say that medical schools, allied health professions schools and government agencies must conduct thorough assessments of the resources and level of effort required to reduce disparities in elementary and secondary schools and colleges–and prepare to take on the actual task. These changes can be helped with legal challenges such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons’ (NAACP’s) plan to make states account for racial disparities in public school education.
And transparent involvement such as volunteerism for health career days or tutoring sessions will not result in long-term success for underserved minority youth, they add.
Rather, transforming primary and secondary schools for minority children means promoting more funding for public schools, supporting school reforms that deliver greater outcomes for at-risk youth, and fostering partnerships between schools and medical institutions.
Collaborations among government agencies, businesses and funders can connect both medical schools and teaching hospitals with local grade schools, high schools and colleges and their communities.
In the past, such partnerships have demonstrated the benefits of investing early in the formal education of youth.
One of the best illustrations include the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) and Centers of Excellence, the Project 3000 by 2000 Health Professions Partnership Initiative (HPPI), and the Minority Medical Education Program (MMEP), a summer enrichment program funded by the RWJF and administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
Project 3000 by 2000 was created by the AAMC with funds from the Robert Wood Johnson and W.K. Kellogg foundations to address this particular factor in the lack of minority representation in the health professions.
Part of the HPPI strategy involved implementing local-level education reform through strong minority-based partnerships between medical schools and grade schools and high schools and colleges. In 1996, the HPPI program begin to fund such partnerships nationwide. They located promising students early, enriched math and science curriculum in inadequately-equipped schools and provided mentorships and counseling to communicate the many milestones and expectations of medical schools.
Researchers also cite the Doctors Academies developed by the Fresno Unified School District and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Fresno Latino Center for Medical Education and Research; and the Gateway to Higher Education programs developed by the New York City Department of Education, City University of New York, and Mount Sinai Medical School as the best examples of partnerships among primary and secondary schools and medical establishments.
Furthermore, the problem of disparities in kindergarten through senior-level high school education threaten to eclipse gains made by minority youth overall and overtime.
For example, despite the challenges they face in grade school and high school, a rising number of minority students are graduating from four-year colleges. Between 1990 and 2005, data shows, while the number of whites obtaining bachelor’s degrees nationwide increased 15 percent, the number of African Americans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives receiving bachelor’s degrees doubled, and the number of Hispanics obtaining bachelor’s degrees increased nearly threefold.
Above all, studies show among all ethnic and cultural persuasions of college students, underrepresented minorities are as likely as whites to major in biological and biomedical sciences.
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Last updated January 2014