Spectrum News: Breaking Barriers to Diversify the Physician Workforce

Studies show when patients are treated by doctors who look like them and speak the same language, they have better health outcomes. That’s because they tend to be more comfortable talking to their physicians following treatments.

But studies also show there are a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic med school applicants. One student is working to level the playing field and diversify the physician workforce.

Femi Olu-Talabi, a student at Upstate Medical, says he knew he wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t realize how little he knew about the process.

“I didn’t really know what it meant to be a doctor. I knew if you said you wanted to be a doctor people say oh that’s nice that’s good, and clap,” Olu-Talabi said.

According to a report released by the Associated Medical Schools of New York, Femi is not alone. It found access to knowledge is one of the many barriers for black and brown students succeeding in medical school. 

But they say first, you have to expose them to the possibility that they can be doctors. 

“High school adviser needs to say ‘yes, this is a field you can go into.’ There needs to be better interactions when young people go to this position.” said Jo Wiederhorn, president and CEO of AMSNY. 

She said even when they get into medical school after approximately $5,000 in application costs, a new set of invisible barriers appear.

“Often students have the imposter syndrome. They feel like they don’t belong there,” said Wiederhorn. 

Femi agrees, saying he feels it all the time, especially when he looks around his classroom.

“I sat in the front of the class and we got a break. I turned around and I got hit with a shock wave and it’s like I realized, ‘yo, I’m the biggest, blackest person in the room,’ ” said Femi.

That’s why initiatives like AMSNY’s Post Bacc program and Diversity in Medicine scholarship are bridging the gap of access and confidence for students of color.

“All you have to do is attend. Attend, listen take the exams, pass and you get a conditional acceptance to medical school,” said Femi.