Historically Black Medical Schools Rank High for Social Mission

Graduates of Morehouse, Meharry, and Howard University medical schools, three historically Black institutions, are the most likely to devote themselves to primary care and serving underserved communities, according to a study published in a leading medical journal.  

The study in the June 15 Annals of Internal Medicine measured U.S. medical schools based on the communities where their graduates practice and whether those doctors practiced primary care. The Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., ranked as the first, second, and third, in that order, in social mission.

The study was authored by researchers at George Washington University and the work was funded by a grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. The researchers examined data from medical school graduates from 141 schools from 1999 to 2001 and developed a metric called the social mission score to evaluate medical school output. 

The ranking, according to officials at the three schools, results from the emphasis they have placed on serving underserved communities – a role the study emphasizes as critical to improving overall health care in the U.S. The study, being the first to score all U.S. medical schools on their ability to meet a social mission, shows wide variations among institutions in their production of physicians who practice primary care, work in underserved areas, and increase diversity in the medical field.

“This ranking is an acknowledgement of the hard work and dedication of our faculty, staff and students and goes to the very core of what the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) has stood for from the very beginning – building a healthier America by focusing on those communities with the biggest health challenges,” said Morehouse School of Medicine president Dr. John E. Maupin, Jr. in a statement.

The Tennessean of Nashville reported Tuesday that the Annals of Internal Medicine study said the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville had the worst ranking based on data collected about graduates from the 141 medical schools. Report researchers found that Meharry, which is also in Nashville, found that 49.3 percent of graduates were primary care physicians, compared to 21.9 percent of Vanderbilt graduates.

“This study, in a very elegant way, validates the fact that we are truly a national treasure,” said Dr. Wayne Riley, president and chief executive officer of Meharry. “It really does a very nice job of looking at where medical school graduates practice, how many enter primary care and stay in primary care and how they serve the underserved.”

Dr. Candice Chen, a co-author and an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at GWU, said medical schools do a lot of different things that benefit society.

“For example, the research these schools put out is extremely important, but it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation,” Chen said. “You can do high-level research as well as fulfill the social mission.”

Dr. John Prescott, chief academic officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said the ranking creates an inaccurate and limited picture.

“Medical schools meet social missions in various ways through their integrated missions in medical education, research and patient care,” he said. “It is important for each medical school to set its own social mission and for each to look at whether the medical school is meeting the mission it was designed to do.”

Where doctors choose to work, and what specialty they select, are heavily influenced by medical school,” according to lead study author Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D., a professor of health policy at George Washington University, in a statement. “By recruiting minority students and prioritizing the training of primary care physicians and promoting practice in underserved areas, medical schools will help deliver the health care that Americans desperately need.”

Mullan and his team studied physicians in practice after the completion of all training and national obligations, such as military service or National Health Service Corps placements. The measurements used were the percentage of graduates who practice primary care, work in health professional shortage areas, and are underrepresented minorities then combined into a composite social mission score.