Residents at the GW Hospital are featured in advertisements unveiled last month as part of the American Association of Medical Colleges new minority outreach program.
The Web site-based program, called AspiringDocs.org, targets “underrepresented minorities” like blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. Combined, these ethnic groups make up 25 percent of the American population but they are represented by only 12 percent of medical school applicants and by only 6 percent of practicing physicians, according to the AAMC. The outreach is a reaction to a study that found these minorities are applying to medical school at increasingly lower rates.
Khalil Johnson, one of the featured students, said he hopes the advertisements he posed for inspire students who may be discouraged. The GW residents featured in the AspiringDocs.org advertising are identified by their medical schools.
“It brings me much satisfaction knowing that my participation may play a role in encouraging someone to become a physician who may have previously thought they could not do it,” Johnson said in an e-mail.
The advertisements feature residents from underrepresented minority groups. Each resident’s story of overcoming challenges on their journey to medical school are on the Web site.
Assistant Dean for GW Medical School Admissions Diane McQuail said GW’s residents, who come from medical schools all over the country, may be more diverse because of the unique opportunity working in D.C. offers.
“I think the fact that we are where we are, in the nation’s capital, which is an extremely diverse city, (gives) a lot of opportunity to serve the underserved, which are the large number of African Americans in D.C.,” McQuail said.
Elisa K. Siegel, AAMC senior vice president for Communications, said because GW’s residents came from so many backgrounds, the AAMC used them exclusively in the advertisements. GW was the first medical program they tried because of its proximity to their national headquarters in D.C.
Siegel said the focus on underrepresented minorities is important because studies have shown patients are more comfortable and receive better care when they have a doctor of the same race or ethnicity. The issue is even more important because minority populations are growing, she added.
“Given the health-care disparities that exist among underrepresented groups in this country, our nation’s growing diversity, and the fact that minority doctors are more likely to choose to practice in underserved areas, increasing the prevalence of minority physicians is essential,” Siegel said.
Siegel said many students from black, Native American or Hispanic backgrounds are the first in their family to consider medical school and this causes apprehension for those students.
“Focus group research has shown some students feel isolated,” Siegel said. “They may not, other than their doctor that cares for them, have a doctor as an example.”
Kofi Essel, a first-year medical student at GW, said the residents’ stories on the site are likely to help those isolated minorities feel more welcome in the profession. Essel, whose parents are originally from Ghana, said after reading about Olakunle Idowu, a Nigerian resident at GW who did poorly on his Medical College Admission Test, on the Web site he could see how future applicants might be persuaded.
“What I think happens is a lot of certain minority students go into a bigger school, and in college a lot of times they’re shocked because a lot of times they are not as prepared. Seeing that story, it says you can do it,” Essel said. “That’s the biggest thing … it’s good to see people who have done it.”
Second-year medical student Adelaide Barnes is co-president of the GW Medical School’s minority student outreach group, the Student National Medical Association. The group’s goal is to address “the needs and concerns of medical students of color,” according to its Web site.
Barnes said she is excited about the AspiringDocs.org program because the lack of diversity in the medical profession is an important issue.
“I think the more resources that are out there for anybody to access, especially minority students, I think they’ll be successful,” Barnes said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily making race a preference. I think it’s trying to reach out to underrepresented minorities.”