The disproportionate number of minority doctors is causing concern in the medical community. Statistics show minorities are more likely than whites to die from the some sickness. That's why some schools and medical leaders say additional minorities are needed in the medical field. They say health conditions improve when minorities are able seek care from members of their own ethnic group. ideastream's Mike West has this report.
Mike West: Some experts believe additional doctors are needed from under-represented ethnic groups. They says cultural sensitivity and understanding make minority doctors better able to diagnose and treat their patients. A Cleveland university is helping to create additional minority doctors. Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine offers an annual 6-week program that costs the students nothing. It's called the Health Careers Enhancement Program. About 100 minority students are provided a room, classes, and special training to help them get accepted into medical school. Joseph Williams is the associate director of Minority Programs at CWRU. He says these future doctors are likely to eventually practice where they are most needed, in medically and economically challenged neighborhoods.
Joseph Williams: There is a fairly substantial minority community here and study after study has indicated that minority physicians tend to go back to their communities to provide health services and they are much more likely to do that majority physicians. And also these minority physicians tend to have more concerns about the particular diseases and disease processes that disproportional affect minorities.
MW: Those diseases are many. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes rates are 70% higher in blacks, infant mortality rates are double, and African Americans are more likely to die from cancer than non-minorities after being diagnosed. Lauren Moore is a student at Boston University who just completed the Health Careers program.
Lauren Moore: I feel an obligation to the community. I don't know if I'm going to come back to Ohio, but I definatly feel an obligation to the minority community. I would love to come back and do just general pediatrics and do that for a few years. That's something I definatly want to do. Boston or Cleveland. I'm definatly going to spend some time giving back to the community. That's on the top of my list of priorities.
MW: The Association of American Medical Colleges says the number of underrepresented minorities in the general population is 21%, but the number of doctors in that group is only about 8%. It bothers Moore that some people might feel the program gives her an unfair advantage.
LM: Programs like this are really great - I think that they are really helpful. A lot of people in this day and age don't see the need for minority programs, they see minority programs as segregation, but I don't think it's segregation, I think sometimes you just need a little extra encouragement. I go to a huge school that is 4% minority so I don't see a lot of people doing the same things as me.
MW: So why don't more African Americans become doctors? Doctor Carla Harwell is the medical director of the Otis Moss Jr. Medical Center on Cleveland's east side. She says it costs about $50,000 a year for school and it takes 12 years to graduate. Doctor Harwell says blacks and non-minorities have found there are easier ways to make a living.
Carla Harwell: You know, there are so many other careers out there now that offer better pay, better hours. The medical profession isn't as glamorous as it was and doesn't carry the respect that it did, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago. And so medicine as a career, I mean, you really have to love what your about to do and definately not be in this for the money.
MW: Doctor Harwell treats mostly black patients at her east side clinic. She's in favor of creating additional minority doctors, but says education is just as important for improving health conditions.
CH: I think we have two sides of this coin that we need to look at, you know, we need to increase the number of minority physicians, but on the other side, we need to decrease the amount of health disparities that are present in this country.
MW: Those disparities can be seen in many ailments. A much higher number of blacks than whites have AIDS, African Americans have greater rates of arthritis, coronary heart disease, asthma and are many more times as likely to suffer from a stroke than Caucasians. Doctor Harwell advocates a three-pronged approach that includes more minority doctor, education programs and clinics like hers to improve those statistics.
CH: African Americans and Latinos historically have not sought or received the same health care that our Caucasian counterparts have. And that has manifested itself into frightening statistics such as the fact that African-American women die of breast cancer at a rate 6 to 7 times higher that of our caucasian counter parts.
MW: Additional minority doctors should lead to more clinics in underserved areas. But African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans have a long way to go. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control enrolment in 7 major medical fields is very low for those groups. Enrolment for black, hispanic and natives doesn't even break into double digits. On the other hand, enrolment for whites is between 66% and 81%. The next highest enrolment numbers are for Asians. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.