Addressing growing health care needs through diversity

Published on December 27, 2018 by

With the Affordable Care Act encouraging millions of patients to visit doctors and millions more baby boomers aging into Medicare, a looming physician shortage threatens the future of health care. Hardest hit surely will be already underserved urban and rural minority communities here in New York and across the country.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a national shortage of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025, including 12,500 to 31,000 primary care doctors. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that New York meets only 40 percent of its primary care needs, one of the lowest rates in the country.

Furthermore, with research showing that minority physicians are more likely than their colleagues to work in underserved communities and to care for minority, poor and uninsured patients, the Institute of Medicine says that producing a diverse and adequate supply of physicians is one of the best ways to reduce disparities in health care. However, African-Americans comprise only 4.1 percent of the physician workforce and Hispanics just 4.4 percent.

These statistics are among the reasons why Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that the City University of New York is launching a new medical school, building on a four-decade-old program at City College, the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The CUNY School of Medicine will draw its students from rising fourth-year Sophie Davis students, who until now have gone on to clinical training at cooperating medical schools. In the five years from 2009 to 2013, 43 percent of the students graduating from the Sophie Davis School were Black or Latino. In 2015, this number increased to 44 percent. In comparison, just 6 percent of the nation’s medical school graduates were Black in 2014 and only 5 percent Latino, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Clearly, the CUNY School of Medicine, created in partnership with St. Barnabas Health Care System in the South Bronx, will be a medical school unlike any other, committed to graduating highly qualified physicians, many of them from minority groups, uniquely well positioned to care, in particular, for America’s increasingly diverse population. The admissions process will be highly competitive, mirroring Sophie Davis standards, in whichv each year more than 700 students apply for a freshman class that typically seats approximately 75 students.

But what happens when there aren’t enough Black and Latino physicians to care for these communities, especially their most vulnerable populations, the elderly and those dependent on community clinics? CUNY’s new medical school will directly address this issue. After earning their medical diplomas, most current Sophie Davis graduates (65 percent) hold a New York medical license, work in direct patient care (88 percent), practice in large cities (68 percent) or inner cities (43 percent) and almost half report that their patients are underserved minorities.

More than 2,000 Sophie Davis graduates have earned their medical degrees. Many have gone on to provide important service to their community and the nation. For example, Dr. Laurie Zephyrin, the first national director for reproductive health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was the second White House Fellow to graduate from City College after Gen. Colin L. Powell. Her mission now is to introduce new services for the growing number of female veterans across the country.

Another graduate, Dr. Edwin Moreano, opened an office three blocks from his childhood home in Jackson Heights, Queens. Since 1999, Moreano, a plastic surgeon, has led frequent medical missions to Latin America, providing free reconstructive surgery to children who were burned or born with facial deformities.

If they and the other successful Sophie Davis alumni are any indication of what’s to come from the new CUNY School of Medicine, our city, state and country will benefit immensely.

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