Morehouse School of Medicine Addresses Crisis of Black Doctors

Dolphurs Hayes may represent a growing trend in black men pursuing medicine: The Morehouse School of Medicine student refuses to take no for an answer.

Maybe it’s because of his mother, who as a nurse occasionally took her son to work, exposing him to healthcare early on.

Or his dad, who drove the family around to nicer neighborhoods to tangibly show what was possible. Or his older sister, who with a doctoral degree, is a “doctor” in her own right.

Hayes attended Savannah State, which didn’t offer a pre-med program. But that didn’t deter him.

“I knew I wanted to be a doctor, so I made my own class schedule,” says Hayes, who on his own found professors he could do research with, since “Savannah doesn’t offer much in the way of research opportunities, for example, in cancer or HIV.”

After graduating from Savannah, Hayes took the MCAT but didn’t do well. Undeterred, he went to Meharry Medical College in Nashville to complete a one-year master’s in hopes of raising his score. In fact, Hayes took the MCAT three times to achieve the score he wanted.

“I keep going,” Hayes says, reminding me of something the CEO of America’s Promise Alliance told me the other day: “Advantaged kids keep trying until they succeed.” It looks as if Hayes is taking a page out of their book.


The Undergraduate Health Sciences Academy

If Morehouse School of Medicine President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D., has her way, more and more students of color—especially black male students—will demonstrate Hayes’s tenacity.

Montgomery Rice told me that black men, in particular, are less likely to retake the MCAT if they don’t do well on it.

“They are less likely to be told what they can do to increase their score, by, for example, taking additional courses, or learning test-taking strategies, etc.”

This kind of pre-health career counseling is crucial, Montgomery Rice believes, to a student’s ability to be successful, so much so that it’s part of a dynamic initiative aimed at increasing the number of black applicants to medical school, the Undergraduate Health Sciences Academy.

In 2002, 29% of black med school applicants hailed from historically black colleges; by 2013 that percentage had dropped to 16%; 26% of black enrollees were HBCU graduates; by 2013 that percentage was only 12%.

“And we are not seeing an appreciable increase of black applicants who attended [non-HBCUs],” Montgomery Rice says.


To address this problem, and to increase the competitiveness of HBCU graduates, Montgomery Rice and her colleagues have started the Empower Conference, which meets in June on the campus of Meharry.

“We discussed four critical areas,” Montgomery Rice told me.

  1. School curriculum
  2. Standardized test preparation
  3. Financial aid
  4. Pre-health career counseling

“We invite all the HBCUs and talk strategically about how we can partner to increase resources and capacities to prepare our students for health careers, STEM careers, and graduate school,” Montgomery Rice says. About 25% of HBCUs attend.

“Had HBCUs continued to produce the same applicant pool and we’d seen an appreciable increase from majority schools, we would have close to 10,000 more black physicians in this country today.”

The Undergraduate Health Sciences Academy is one answer to this issue. It identifies during their freshman year 10 students per year from the Atlanta University Center, which comprises Morehouse College (an entity separate from the Morehouse School of Medicine), Spelman College, and Clark-Atlanta University, for a total of 30 students.

“They must have at least a 3.0 GPA and major in STEM,” Montgomery Rice says.

“For the next three years, we guarantee these students a health science mentor, leadership development, a $5,000 per year scholarship, guaranteed summer research opportunities—which can be in nursing, basic science, community-based participatory research, bioinformatics, etc.

“They meet as a cohort at least once a month, and we provide peer tutoring.”

Crucially, these students are also provided standardized test support in their junior year for medical, dental, or graduate school.

Supported by a grant from the Kaiser Foundation, the program is now in its second cohort. But Montgomery Rice says the onus of addressing this issue can’t just be on HBCU medical schools.

“We want to share this story with a broader audience so that our colleagues who say they’re committed to diversity can put this into action,” says Montgomery Rice, who is willing to share the school’s curriculum. “We want to show other schools that they can take academically diverse students and succeed with them.”

For more about the Undergraduate Health Sciences Academy at the Morehouse School of Medicine, go here.