Doctors of color call on Congress to help address minority physician shortage

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Roughly, 15 percent of doctors nationwide are Black or Latino.

Dr. Samual Cook is one of them.

“The doctors I saw as a child never looked like me so I made it my life’s mission to be the change I sought in medicine,” said Dr. Cook.

Dr. Cook is now a resident at the Morehouse School of Medicine. But he said the journey wasn’t easy. In fact, it was almost over before it started.

“I was told by my medical school admissions counselor that my above average GPA at one of our nation’s top ten universities was not strong enough to make medicine a reality,” said Cook.

Thursday on Capitol Hill, Dr. Cook joined other minority doctors to share their experiences with Congress. They also urged lawmakers to address the shortage of physicians who look like them.

The most recent federal data shows only eight percent of doctors are Black and seven percent are Latino. Doctors say the disparities don’t end there; minorities are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases compared to white people.

“These disparities are not solely attributable to socioeconomic factors but are deeply rooted in systematic racism and unequal treatment, bias and inadequate access to quality healthcare,” said Dr. Yolanda Lawson, President of the National Medical Association.

It’s a set of disparities that doctors say affects more than just minorities.

“When there are more sick people in our nation, such an imbalanced dynamic creates a bigger burden on our healthcare system, reduces workforce productivity, increases disability and raises medical costs that ultimately we all pay for whether through Medicare, Medicaid or high health insurance premiums,” said Dr. Lawson.

Doctors say one of the biggest barriers for students is debt. Many medical students - regardless of race - face hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt but the financial burden is significantly greater for minorities.

“Racially based and systematic wealth inequity is an undeniable truth in our nation,” said Dr. Cook.

“We must address financial constraints on many Black students. Medical school is a financial impossibility,” said Dr. Lawson. “We support programs such as the National Health Service Corps and ask for resources for the HBCU medical schools to address education and infrastructure.”

Another one is access. There are only four Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with a medical school nationwide and even fewer options for Latino students.

“We need a bilingual and bicultural medical school anchored at a Hispanic serving institution partnered with local hospitals,” said Dr. Michael Galvez, co-creator of the National Latino Physician Day.

Dr. Galvez believes community colleges should be included as potential pathways for medical students of color.

“The commercialize of medical school and the reliance of standardized tests such as the MCAT overlooks the potential of a compassionate and capable physician candidate,” said Dr. Galvez.

Doctors say they want Congress to increase funding for HBCU’s nationwide and create more loan repayment programs for medical students.