Wednesday 22 Oct 2014

Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

Scholarship working to close diversity shortage gap in medicine

Published: 9:32 am CDT, September 24, 2013

Nefertiti Clavon struggles to keep up with rising tuition costs and other college expenses.

“There were times I felt I was going to have to leave school because of financial situations,” said Clavon, a 22-year-old health promotions student at the University of Houston in Texas.

Clavon’s dilemma is not uncommon.  Rising tuition costs, dramatic cuts to graduate medical education funding and minimal spots for residencies, internships and mentors are limiting opportunities for minority students seeking healthcare degrees in medicine, nursing and allied health fields.

In an effort to help students like Clavon and increase diversity in the healthcare industry, the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement offers the Go Red Multicultural Scholarship Fund.

Through the scholarship — now in its third year — the American Heart Association and Macy’s provides $2,500 scholarships to multicultural women pursuing college or graduate school degrees in medicine, nursing and allied health. It serves a dual purpose of easing the financial burden for students, while also potentially increasing the number of minorities in medicine.

“Minority students face increased barriers to success in medical school and few mentorship opportunities,” said Courtney Johnson, president of the Student National Medical Association, which has about 6,000 medical and pre-medical student members representing various racial and ethnic groups. “If we want to meet the medical needs of patients, then healthcare professionals need to mirror the population. We will need more minorities enrolling and graduating from medical school to enter the field.”

The number of minority medical school graduates remains low compared with the population at large. For example, among 17,364 medical school graduates in 2011, 6.5 percent were black, 7.6 percent Hispanic and 21.6 percent were Asian, according to figures from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Additionally, only 5.4 percent of black, 3.6 percent of Hispanic and 5.8 percent of Asian nurses in the nation are registered nurses and 6 percent of black and 5 percent of Hispanics are licensed doctors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, minorities make up 36.6 percent of the U.S. population.

“There remains a significant disparity, amongst minorities, in access to top-quality cardiovascular care, emerging medical interventional technologies and high-quality healthcare in general. As the percentage of highly-trained minority physicians and healthcare personnel remains low or decreases relative to their representation in the general population, the existing gap in access to quality care will likely continue to exist,” said Dr. Christopher Leggett, M.D., vice president of the Association of Black Cardiologists.

“We must emergently address the issue of education, increase minority enrollment in college and medical schools, improve cultural sensitivity amongst majority physicians and embrace strict adherence to guideline-based therapies for all Americans,” he said. “If we can achieve these improvements, we will give our nation a fighting chance to close this gap.”

Deidre Walton, Ph.D., president/CEO of the National Black Nurses Association, said it’s up to healthcare membership organizations, hospitals and others to work on strategies that build a diverse nursing and healthcare workforce.

“Starting before college, we are looking at ways to bring more diverse students into nursing programs through mentorships,” Walton said.

Numerous ethnic groups — including blacks and Hispanics — are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease and risk factors. They also face barriers to diagnosis and care and experience worse health outcomes than whites. 

“The recruitment of talented, young diverse women into the healthcare field is a critical step in the delivery of quality, culturally-sensitive, patient-centered care,” said Jennifer Mieres, M.D., senior  vice president in the Office of Community and Public Health, chief diversity and inclusion officer for North Shore-LIJ Health System and American Heart Association Go Red For Women spokesperson.

For more information and to complete an application for the Go Red™ Multicultural Scholarship, visit GoRedForWomen.org. The deadline to apply for 2014 scholarships is Dec. 31.