Decline in Black Male Physicians Could Impact African American Health, Wellness

Decline in Black Male Physicians Could Impact African American Health, Wellness

(Image: File)
(Image: Courtesy of Ascension Health)

My husband, who developed hypertension, illustrates this point. His physicians didn’t know that African Americans generally respond better to one type of treatment over another. A doctor knowledgeable about how African Americans respond to certain pharmaceuticals and their medical history may have provided better care to my husband, and certainly to my mother.

Experts, including the AAMC, tell us that there is already a shortage of physicians in the United States, with estimates that we will have anywhere from 90,000 to 125,000 fewer doctors than we need by 2025.

The issue is even more acute regarding the number of black doctors. Dr. Regina Benjamin, the former U.S. Surgeon General and a member of the Ascension Board of Directors, noted early in her tenure in the Obama administration as the nation’s chief doctor that we need more minority doctors in the U.S. at a time when only 6% of the nation’s physicians were minorities. The numbers have only declined since that time.

The AAMC report notes that driving the decrease in medical school enrollment are financial impediments, a lack of role models, fear of failure, and, ironically, expanded opportunity in other industries. Fortunately, these issues can all be overcome, and there are concerted efforts currently underway to address them.

One such program is the Tour for Diversity in Medicine sponsored by the Aetna Foundation and the U.S. Army. Under the leadership of Drs. Alden Landry and Kameron Leigh Matthews, Tour for Diversity visits historically black colleges and universities across the nation, providing students with insights into careers in medicine. The program also offers mentorship and connects prospective medical students with support structures. Innovative approaches like this may be what we need to recruit more black male doctors.

Serving as a healthcare provider is one of the toughest jobs anyone can do. However, with that challenge come tremendous rewards, especially when giving back to our community. We need to encourage our best and brightest black men to seriously consider a career in medicine. The health and well-being of our entire community is at stake.

Patricia A. Maryland, Ph.D., is president of Healthcare Operations and chief operating officer for Ascension Health