Covid-19 shined a spotlight on health disparities, with increased hospitalizations and death rates among Black and Latinx patients, including here in Buffalo. However, we have a powerful tool to address health disparities: increased diversity among doctors with the help of pipeline programs and scholarship.
Increasing diversity among doctors is important because patients are more likely to visit and follow the instructions of doctors with whom they share an ethnic or racial background. This has been proven in multiple studies, including a 2018 study from Stanford that found that Black men who were randomly placed to be seen by Black doctors for a free health care screening sought continued preventative care following that visit. Despite the potential for improved outcomes, there are too few Black doctors to treat patients.
Here in New York State, 34% of our population is Black or Hispanic, yet only 13% of our practicing doctors represent those communities. Our diverse population needs more diverse doctors. However, students from underrepresented backgrounds often face barriers. Key to addressing those barriers are pipeline programs and scholarships for aspiring doctors, such as those run by the Associated Medical Schools of New York and funded by the New York State Department of Health.
To date, more than 500 students have gone on to be doctors thanks to AMSNY’s post-baccalaureate program at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Buffalo. During the year-long post-bac program, students receive mentoring, advising and a tailored curriculum to prepare for medical school. Fully paid tuition, plus a stipend, allows students to focus on school without the distraction of financial pressure – often for the first time. When students go on to medical school – 95% of them – AMSNY’s state-funded scholarship further reduces financial barriers for top students each year.
Alumni from AMSNY’s program here in Buffalo have gone on to be pediatricians, emergency room doctors, neurosurgeons and more.
Unfortunately, AMSNY’s programs are at risk of being cut because of Covid-19 budget shortfalls at a time when Covid-19 has shown the world why we need to immediately address health disparities.
New York State needs to move forward in addressing health care disparities, not backwards. It’s up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature to make a difference in the health of New Yorkers by investing in diversity in medicine.
David A. Milling, M.D., is senior associate dean for student and academic affairs and associate professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.