CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — An investment during the past 15 years to expose minority students to the rigors of medical school before classes actually begin has paid off in a big way for the University of Virginia School of Medicine (UVa).
The university has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of minority students applying and, when admitted, staying through graduation.
“This is a school that has gone from 3 percent minority to 16 percent.” said professor Moses Woode, associate dean for student academic support, speaking of a period from the early 1980s to the present. “That is what is dramatic about our program here.”
UVa’s Medical Academic Advance Program (MAAP), a six-week residential summer academic enrichment program for minority and disadvantaged college students, has brought 1,110 undergraduates to its Charlottesville campus since 1984.
Of the 506 who responded to follow-up surveys, 150 students have received medical degrees, 39 of which were from UVa. Another 223 are now enrolled in medical school. In total, 101 participants in the MAAP program have enrolled at UVa’s School of Medicine of whom only one left for academic reasons. The dramatic increase can be seen by looking at the figures from 1980, when six Black students’ entered the medical school out of the 91 who applied and the 12 who were accepted. In 1995, UVa received 666 applications from minorities. Of those, 41 were offered admission.
Partnered with HBCUs
Part of UVa’s program involves working with faculty members from a consortium of 28 undergraduate schools who identify and recruit students.
“Networking and linkage have been very important,” Woode said.
Besides networking with universities like Brown, North Carolina and Stanford, the consortium, which received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 1989, includes several historically Black colleges.
“A lot of schools use the historically Black institutions as their feeder institutions.” Woode said. “We decided to go the other way and bring them in as partners so they have an investment in what we are trying to do here.”
Once accepted into medical school, some students participate in MAAP II, a six-week summer program that prepares them for the pace, content and volume of information they will receive in medical school, Woode said.
Other students receive admission to the medical school on the condition that they participate in a 15-month post-baccalaureate program, which is preceded by the original MAAP program and followed by MAAP II. Of the 50 students who have taken the transition program, 33 are in medical school and seven more are expected in the fall of 1996.
Timothy Ready of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ minority affairs office said the rate at which UVa has improved the number of minority students recruited and retained is noteworthy.
“It shows that the institution has a strong commitment to diversity,” Ready said of the university’s support for the MAAP program. “They’re willing to go through the work and effort to sponsor such a program.”
In absolute numbers, though, the percentage of minority medical students at UVa is only somewhat above the national average of 12.1 percent, Ready said.
Whereas AAMC numbers show that a little more than 15 percent of UVa’s latest medical school class are underrepresented minorities, the classes at the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina are 22 percent and 23 percent respectively.
Woode said that some schools were ahead of UVa in recruiting minority students in the early 1980s. Those schools are still ahead, he said, but not by nearly as much. The most significant figure, Woode said, is that only one minority student since 1984 has had to withdraw from UVa medical school for academic reasons.
Students spoke highly of the academic support they have received through Woode’s academic support office and the preparatory programs.
“It seemed from the very beginning that we always had someone to talk to,” said second-year student Kaadze Wright, who participated in the post-baccalaureate program. “There were ten of us, so we formed our own little support group.” Wright, 28, said the program was particularly helpful because she had been out of school for a few years.
While generally happy with the program at UVa, students said there are problems. For example, they said, too few of the faculty are minority.
“When you see someone who looks like you, you just feel more comfortable,” said second-year student Mala Freeman, explaining why she felt this was an important issue. “If she’s a Black woman, you think `She’s gone through medical school just like I have.’ … It’s easier to have that person as a mentor.”
The School of Medicine employs 21 minority faculty. The eight Blacks, 12 Hispanics, and one Native American represent 2.5 percent of the total full- and part-time faculty. “This school’s minority faculty ratio is one of the lowest in the country,” Woode said.
He said the institution has pledged to increase the number of minority teachers and has Consistently provided funding in the past 10 to 15 years to improve the situation for minority medical students.
While Black Americans make up an estimated 12.8 percent of the nation’s population, fewer than 4 percent of the country’s doctors are Black.
Some Black students still feel socially isolated in Charlottesville, which is not home to a large number of young Black professionals.
“If you want to get married [to a Black man], there’s not a big dating pool,” Wright said. “And if you wanted to marry someone who wasn’t of color, [Charlottesville] probably wouldn’t be the most conducive place,” Freeman said.
Feelings of Isolation
The university tries to coordinate social activities and emphasizes that Washington, DC, is only two hours away and Richmond, the capital of Virginia, is only one hour to the east, Woode said.
Charrell Washington, 26, said UVa’s chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) is very active, providing an outlet for medical students to socialize with undergraduates.
Washington and other students said the SNMA’s minority recruitment weekend played a role in their decision to come to UVa. During that weekend, the university pays all accepted students’ travel expenses to visit Charlottesville.
UVa is still affected by the history of racism in the South, some students said. But the university’s efforts in recent years have made the school more attractive and enabled many to stay through graduation.
“The environment is not completely colorblind, but overall this place is very much more supportive than many other institutions,” Woode said.
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