Jaime Nieto, M.D., Director of Neurosurgery, New York Presbyterian Queens Hospital
Dr. Nieto came to the U.S. from Colombia at age 19 without fluency in English. Undaunted, he graduated from Mercy College with a B.S. in Biology just a few years later and was determined to become a physician.
SUNY Upstate Medical University recognized his potential, and thought an intensive year of academic enrichment and mentoring would enable him to excel. They referred him to AMSNY’s post-baccalaureate program and guaranteed his admittance to SUNY Upstate upon completion of the program. After receiving his M.D., Dr. Nieto chose to enter neurosurgery – one of medicine’s most competitive specialties. He completed his residency with a fellowship in spinal surgery.
“The [post-bac] program gave me the opportunity that I was denied by everyone else,” said Dr. Nieto. “AMSNY enabled me to become a doctor and serve the population I serve today: immigrants, minorities and financially disadvantaged individuals. I can identify with them as I come from the same background.”
80% of the patients Dr. Nieto serves do not speak English.
The Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY), a not for profit organization that represents the 16 medical schools in New York State, is calling on the state legislature to create a new scholarship program to enable more students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in medicine to attend medical school. AMSNY is requesting $2.4 million to expand state-funded diversity in medicine programming, including the new scholarship program which will cost $400,000 in the first year.
The proposed program would provide scholarships to New York medical schools for students from economically and educationally underserved areas, indexed to the average tuition and fees at the four SUNY medical schools (~$40,000 per year, with a maximum of 4 years). The scholarship will initially be offered to 10 students, and expanded to an annual cohort of 40 students in four years.
The rationale behind the program is the cost of medical education. For many students, paying for a medical education is a daunting challenge— of the graduating class of 2015, 81 percent of medical students reported leaving medical school with student loan debt. Across the country, the median level of debt for the class of 2015 was $183,000, not including accrued interest. This need for financial assistance is a significant barrier to medical school enrollment particularly for students traditionally underrepresented, who tend to come from low-income backgrounds.
“These scholarships are essential to create a more diverse physician workforce in New York,” said Jo Wiederhorn, President of AMSNY, which has, for 25 years, created and managed pipeline programs that have enabled individuals traditionally underrepresented in medicine to attend medical schools and become doctors.
Achieving a diverse physician workforce is imperative in order to reduce health-care disparities. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) physicians from racial and ethnic backgrounds typically underrepresented in medicine (Black/African American; Hispanic/Latino; American Indian/Alaskan Native) are significantly more likely to practice primary care, practice in impoverished areas or practice in areas federally designated as medically underserved. Yet, according to data from the SUNY Albany Center for Health Workforce Studies, underrepresented minorities (Blacks/African Americans; Hispanics/Latinos; American Indians/Alaska Natives) made up only 9% of the physician workforce in 2014, compared to approximately 35% of New York’s population.
Increased diversity can also affect healthcare outcomes, as research indicates that race concordance between patient and physician results in longer visits and increased patient satisfaction, and language concordance has been positively associated with adherence to treatment among certain racial or ethnic groups.
On top of increasing the diversity of doctors in New York States, the scholarship will help address geographic health care disparities, as scholarship awardees will have to commit to practice medicine in an area of the state with a shortage of physicians, as designated by the Board of Regents. They will provide one year of service per year receiving the scholarship.
AMSNY is also requesting increased funding to support existing, successful AMSNY programs which increase the pipeline of medical students from economically and educationally underserved areas. These include four post-baccalaureate programs, hosted by the medical schools, from which 93% of participants go on to graduate from medical school. AMSNY is requesting that the state increase funding for these programs from $1.6 million to $2 million. The increased funding will allow AMSNY to continue running the seven programs currently funded by the Department of Health, as well as important prior diversity programming that was defunded as a result of state budget cuts. Students who participate in any of these programs will receive priority selection for the scholarships.
AMSNY DIVERSITY PIPELINE PROGRAM ALUMNI:
Denise Dennis-Coke, M.D., Internal Medicine Resident, University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Dr. Dennis-Coke always wanted to be a physician. As an undergraduate, she relentlessly pursued health care volunteer opportunities, later completing a Master’s of Public Health, and working to finance her medical education.
Even though several years elapsed before she applied to medical school, the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences offered the perfect opportunity to pursue her dream. She received a guaranteed acceptance to medical school upon successful completion of AMSNY’s post-baccalaureate program at UB. And while the academic enrichment component of the program was essential, the most valuable component, she said, was the mentorship she received from faculty. Dr. Dennis-Coke received her medical degree from UB in 2013 and plans to practice primary care in the Buffalo area.
“AMSNY’s program,” she said, ”helped me tremendously in becoming the physician I am today.”
Jonathan D. Daniels, M.D., Physician, Main -Tonawanda Pediatrics of Integrity Health Group, Buffalo
Dr. Daniels’ interest in a career in medicine was sparked during his service as a Combat Medical Specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves during Operation Desert Storm and the Persian Gulf War. After fulfilling his military commitment, Dr. Daniels began the long process of realizing his dream, first completing his undergraduate education, then applying to medical schools.
The University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences recognized his tenacity and clear passion for practicing medicine. He was offered guaranteed admittance to UB upon completion of AMSNY’s post-baccalaureate program, during which he received mentoring, advising and a tailored curriculum to prepare him for the rigors of medical school. Dr. Daniels received his medical degree from UB, and has been serving in Buffalo as a doctor and active member of the community ever since.