Fewer Black Men Are Going into Medicine. That’s a Problem

It’s been widely reported that fewer black men are going into medicine. More black men enrolled in medical school in 1978—542—than in 2014, when only 515 enrolled. For every other minority group, including black women, med school enrollment numbers have increased, NPR has reported.

Filling the Pipeline

Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, one of the nation’s oldest historically black academic health science centers, sees the problem as a pipeline issue. As a result, he and his team have adopted two Nashville middle schools as part of an initiative called MeharryNOW.

“Haynes Middle Health/Medical Science and Design Center is a science-focused magnet school,” Hildreth told me. “The other, Creswell Middle Prep School of the Arts, is focused on arts and humanities.”

Through MeharryNOW, Meharry’s own faculty members, students, and researchers went to the middle schools to engage the students in a day of hands-on science activities last October. “As recently as a few months ago, a parent tapped me on my shoulder in the grocery store and said her son is still talking about that day.

“We want to get them excited about science first and then about medicine and dentistry—to increase the likelihood that they’ll pursue a career in science or medicine. We also have the teachers come over to Meharry to help them develop projects they can do with their students.”

MeharryNOW volunteers built a greenhouse at Haynes “because you can’t teach bio without a greenhouse,” Hildreth says.

Although it may seem counterintuitive for a medical school to adopt a humanities-focused middle school, Hildreth doesn’t see it that way.

“You don’t need to be a science major to pursue a career in medicine or dentistry. There are some core courses one has to take, but students who major in English or the other liberal arts can certainly apply to medical or dental school.

“In my experience,” Hildreth says, “physicians who were non-science majors tend to be excellent physicians.”

Providing Resources

Engagement with the schools started in the spring of 2016. MeharryNOW also provided glasses for students in the schools to view the eclipse safely, among its other initiatives, such as mentoring.

The schools are in relatively new buildings, but the total year’s science budget—for the science magnet school—is $5,000, which Hildreth says is inadequate.

What would be an adequate budget? He didn’t remember the exact student enrollment, but when he did the math the amount came to roughly $1.50 per student for the whole year. An adequate budget, he says, would be a couple of hundred dollars per student per year.

For more about MeharryNOW, visit this website.