By AKYA MYRIE
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | MAR 30, 2021 AT 5:00 AM
As I finish my final year of medical school, I’m in a race against time.
Growing up in Brooklyn as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, I saw people that looked like me suffer from higher rates of asthma, diabetes and other chronic illnesses more than their white counterparts.
New Yorkers have always had a gap in health and healthcare based on race and ethnicity. In the past year, COVID-19 has widened those gaps. People of color, like me, have experienced the highest death rates from this pandemic.
That is why I feel a sense of urgency to start helping patients. New York State needs to feel the same urgency — it is more important than ever to double down on investments in diversifying New York’s physician workforce. This is a proven way to help our communities stay healthy.
Research shows that patients are more likely to visit, and follow instructions of, doctors with whom they share an ethnic or racial background. Anecdotal evidence shows this trend applies to vaccinations, too.
In New York state, 32% of our population is Black or Hispanic, yet only 13% of our doctors represent those communities. Physicians over 65 are retiring, creating a need for doctors from a range of backgrounds to take their places. These shortages will be felt most acutely in underserved areas.
Physicians of racial or ethnic backgrounds underrepresented in medicine are more likely to work in underserved areas. I plan to return to my Brooklyn community to serve those who, I believe, count on people like me — people who look like them, sound like them, understand their culture and community. It is the kind of care that my brother, who has profound developmental disabilities, received. With his care, I saw firsthand the impact and importance of diversity in medicine.
Despite earning my Bachelors of Science at Stony Brook University and dreaming of becoming a doctor, I faced adversity. Luckily, a state-funded Diversity in Medicine program at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Buffalo, run by the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY), was there to help.
Thanks to this rigorous program, which guarantees medical school admission upon graduation, I was prepared academically and emotionally for medical school, and to become a doctor. I was even inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society, the highest achievement in medical school. This is a testament to the successful foundation laid by the Diversity in Medicine program.
For four consecutive years, I have received the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship from AMSNY, funded by the state legislature. The scholarship helps students like me, for whom the cost of medical school seems like an insurmountable challenge. It helped me focus on being the best medical professional possible without the burden of medical school debt.
Thanks to these diversity programs, I am on the verge of achieving my goal of becoming a urologic surgeon. I recently matched into residency at the Cleveland Clinic. I want others to have similar opportunities; our diverse residents need it.
Despite some lingering uncertainties about the state budget due to the pandemic, any proposed reductions to the diversity in medicine programs should be rejected. There is a need for full restoration of both the program to increase diversity in medicine and the scholarships to make these programs whole. They are tiny budget items, about $1.25 million and $500,000, respectively. Is it really worth dialing back the progress we are making in diversifying the physician workforce for what amounts to an infinitesimal fraction of the budget shortfall?
If New York fails to increase the number of underrepresented physicians entering the workforce in the next few years, we will face greater costs in health outcomes in the state’s fast-growing population of people of color.
I urge the state to address this looming crisis and help turn the corner on COVID. New York needs to invest in diversifying our physician workforce. I benefited from this investment. My future patients will, too.
Myrie, a Brooklyn resident, is completing her medical degree at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University.