Medical School Diversity

For minorities, road to medical school a leaky pipeline

Minority students trying to pursue a career in medicine are rapidly leaving the “medical school pipeline,” a recent analysis of data by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows. 

The pipeline describes persistence on the path to medical education. When certain demographic groups exit the pipeline, it often is described as a “leak.” The analysis compared cohorts of students who stated intentions for becoming physicians during sophomore year of high school and then later applied for medical school.

Data show the population of students who applied for entrance to medical school is substantially smaller than the estimated number of high school sophomores from the same cohort who, years earlier, declared intentions of becoming doctors. The number of actual applicants within the 2004 graduating class is only one-tenth of the estimated number of students who aspired to become physicians.

“These results show that the pipeline does not leak in a trickle but as a sieve,” the analysis states. “The group of individuals who, when in high school, express intentions to pursue a career as a physician are much more diverse than those who actually matriculate into medical school, and those who leak out the most are from groups least represented in medicine.”

The AMA Medical Student Section’s (MSS) Minority Issues Committee is keenly focused on the “leaky pipeline.”

“We know that patients have a right to be treated by physicians who can understand and address their unique concerns and beliefs,” said Benjamin Mazer, a third-year medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and vice-chair of the AMA-MSS Minority Issues Committee. 

“That means we need a diverse physician workforce to accommodate our equally diverse society,” Mazer said. “Our country often burdens racial or ethnic minorities, women and LGBT people with poverty, prejudice or limited opportunity. The AMA-MSS is not afraid to discuss the impact this has on health and on physician diversity. Diversity does not have a ‘check box’ solution but is a consequence of long-term inclusivity.”

While the AAMC analysis does not address potential causes for minorities leaving the medical school pipeline, Mazer said the AMA-MSS points to a few causes, including the upfront financial burden to attend medical school and lack of visible role models for minority students. Just 9 percent of U.S. physicians today are African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Alaskan Native, even though nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population is from these ethnic groups.

But the outlook is not all bleak. Additional data from the AAMC show that students from underrepresented minorities taking the Medical College Admission Test have increased by 35 percent since 2010.

To address the “sieve,” the AMA Minority Affairs Section sponsors the AMA Doctors Back to School™ program, which aims to increase the number of physicians from underrepresented minorities by inspiring young minority students to pursue a career in the medical profession.