Mississippi Lacks Black Doctors, Even as Lawmakers Increasingly Goal Diversity Programs

JACKSON, Miss. — Jerrian Reedy was 9 when his father was admitted to the hospital in Hattiesburg, about two hours northeast of New Orleans, after sustaining three gunshot wounds. Reedy recalled visiting his dad within the intensive care unit that summer season in 2009, regardless that youngsters weren’t usually permitted in that a part of the hospital.

“Just seeing him laid up in bed, in a hospital bed, it was traumatizing, to say the least,” Reedy stated.

His father died inside per week of being admitted, in the midst of a nine-month span when Reedy additionally misplaced an aunt and a grandmother. “They say death comes in threes,” he stated.

That chain of occasions prompted him to pursue a profession in medication, one that may assist him spare different youngsters from dropping family members too quickly.

Fifteen years later, Reedy has accomplished his first yr on the University of Mississippi School of Medicine — a outstanding feat, and never solely as a result of his profession path was born of grief and trauma. Reedy is amongst a small share of Black medical college college students in a state the place practically 4 in 10 folks — however only 1 in 10 doctors — establish as Black or African American. Of the 660 medical college college students enrolled in the identical four-year program as Reedy, 82 college students, or about 12%, are Black.

Medical colleges across the nation are attempting to recruit Black, Hispanic, and Native American college students, all of whom stay disproportionately underrepresented within the discipline of drugs. Research has proven that sufferers of coloration want seeing medical doctors of their very own race — and a few research have proven well being outcomes are higher for Black sufferers seeing Black medical doctors.

But a latest swell of Republican opposition threatens to upend these efforts, college directors say, and will exacerbate deep well being disparities already skilled by folks of coloration.

Since 2023 — the yr the Supreme Court voted to outlaw affirmative action in greater schooling — greater than two dozen states, together with Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas, have launched or handed legal guidelines to limit or ban variety, fairness, and inclusion, or DEI, packages.

“I don’t expect this movement of anti-DEI legislation to slow down or stop at all,” stated Anton Gunn, a well being care guide and former head of the Office of External Affairs on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “And it likely will exacerbate if Donald Trump gets the opportunity to be president of the United States again.”

Diversity Programs Face Pushback

In 2023, Florida and Texas grew to become the primary states to cross legal guidelines that banned DEI efforts in greater schooling. Several different states, together with Idaho, North Carolina, and Wyoming, handed legal guidelines concentrating on such packages this yr.

In Mississippi, state Rep. Becky Currie and state Sen. Angela Burks Hill, each Republicans, launched separate payments that will have restricted how schools and universities might spend cash on DEI initiatives. Both payments died in legislative committees and weren’t introduced earlier than the 2024 legislature for a vote.

In a press release, Hill stated that Mississippi wants extra medical doctors of every kind, not simply extra Black medical doctors, and that she thinks cash spent on DEI salaries and packages ought to be reallocated to initiatives benefiting all college students.

“Qualifications should determine who gets into medical school not color or socioeconomic status,” she stated. “Can’t we just be happy with more highly qualified doctors no matter their skin color? I thought a color blind society was the goal.”

Nationally, the motion to ban DEI packages has broad conservative help.

Jay Greene, a senior analysis fellow on the Heritage Foundation, a conservative assume tank, stated he believes variety packages “fail for a hundred reasons.” He cited research he conducted with a conservative medical advocacy group referred to as Do No Harm refuting the premise that entry to Black medical doctors improves well being outcomes amongst Black sufferers.

“That doesn’t mean there’s no potential benefits for having greater diversity in the doctor workforce,” Greene stated. Having extra Black medical doctors, for instance, would possibly encourage extra Black youngsters to think about a profession in well being care, he stated. “But that benefit is not health outcomes.”

Meanwhile, college directors are carefully watching the progress of such legal guidelines.

In March, the University of Florida eliminated all DEI programs and terminated jobs associated to these efforts. In Alabama, legal professionals and college leaders are grappling with a invoice signed the identical month by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey that bans DEI packages in public colleges, state companies, and universities beginning Oct. 1.

“We have to be very, very careful,” stated Richard deShazo, who teaches on the University of Alabama’s Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine in Birmingham and used to chair a committee that raised cash for Black medical college college students.

“You cannot raise money for Black kids. You have to raise money for medical students,” he stated.

A Bitter History

A scarcity of Black medical doctors isn’t distinctive to Mississippi. The similar story may very well be informed in lots of different locations, particularly throughout the South, the place greater than half of all Black Americans reside and the place health outcomes regularly rank among the worst within the United States.

But a have a look at Mississippi, one of many unhealthiest states within the nation, reveals how the roots of systemic racism proceed to form the nation’s well being care workforce.

“A lot of the Black physicians in the state have a bitter taste in their mouth about our medical school,” stated Demondes Haynes, affiliate dean of medical college admissions on the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the place he graduated in 1999 as one in every of 4 Black college students in his class.

Marlee Washington (left) and Jon Trayvious attend the African American Visit Day on the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. Trayvious, a latest graduate of Northside High School in Shelby, Mississippi, inspects a human lung in a classroom on the medical college. (Lauren Sausser/KFF Health News)

An estimated 1.1 million Black folks reside in Mississippi, the place there are fewer than 600 Black medical doctors. Research suggests well being outcomes would enhance if there have been extra. One examine revealed final yr within the medical journal JAMA Network Open found that life expectancy was longer amongst Black sufferers in counties with greater ratios of Black main care physicians.

In a examine primarily based in Oakland, California, that concerned greater than 1,300 Black males, those that had been assigned a Black physician had been extra more likely to conform to screening exams for diabetes, ldl cholesterol, and different well being considerations, in keeping with the findings revealed in 2018 by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“We absolutely are not saying every Black patient has to have a Black doctor,” Haynes stated. But as a result of the affected person inhabitants in Mississippi is numerous, “they should at least have the right to say, ‘This is what I want,’” he added.

However, most Black sufferers aren’t afforded that selection. Nearly two dozen of Mississippi’s 82 counties don’t have any Black medical doctors, whereas 4 counties declare no medical doctors in any respect, in keeping with a physician workforce report revealed by the state in 2019.

For greater than a century, relationship to its founding within the mid-1800s, the University of Mississippi didn’t admit Black college students — and that coverage utilized to its medical college. In 1972, practically 10 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial segregation in greater schooling, the first Black physician graduated from the medical college in Jackson. Even then, only a few Black college students had been admitted to check medication there annually.

Before the federal authorities banned the varsity from rejecting Black candidates due to their race, aspiring Black medical doctors who utilized had been diverted to one of many traditionally Black schools and universities, or HBCUs, corresponding to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Haynes stated.

Many older Black physicians in Mississippi nonetheless bear in mind getting these rejection letters, he stated, declaring composite images of doctor graduates that line the partitions of the medical college constructing in Jackson. Many of the earliest composites, relationship to the Nineteen Fifties, showcase courses of all-white, and virtually all-male, college students.

“Mississippi history — everybody remembers it,” Haynes stated. “And those people who experienced it, it’s hard for them.”

‘Shaping the Possibilities’

On a humid Saturday morning in mid-April, 17-year-old Dorothy Gray, a highschool junior, stepped as much as a hospital mattress on the medical college in Jackson to intubate a mock affected person in a simulation lab.

Gray was one in every of greater than 100 highschool and faculty college students who attended the University of Mississippi School of Medicine’s annual African American Visit Day, established greater than 10 years in the past to foster curiosity amongst potential Black college students. The directors, who additionally host particular visiting days for Hispanic and Native American college students, stated anybody, no matter race or ethnicity, might attend. They acknowledge that almost all attendees gained’t grow to be medical doctors, and their goal isn’t to increase preferential remedy to minority candidates.

“This is about shaping the possibilities of what could be,” stated Loretta Jackson-Williams, the varsity’s vice dean for medical schooling. “These kids are at that precipice where they can choose to do something that’s really hard for their future or they can choose an easier pathway. That choice doesn’t come about overnight.”

Besides African American Visit Day, medical college leaders in Mississippi additionally supply a take a look at prep program for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds who’ve been rejected from medical college.

The college just lately recognized 16 candidates, 12 of whom are Black, who weren’t accepted to the medical college over the past admissions cycle as a result of their MCAT scores had been too low. This yr, these candidates will obtain a take a look at prep course designed by The Princeton Review — freed from cost — and may have an opportunity to fulfill with directors to learn the way their medical college purposes is perhaps strengthened.

“So many students have never had someone tell them, ‘You can do this. I believe you can do this,’” stated Dan Coleman, the medical college’s outreach director.

For Jerrian Reedy, who needs to grow to be an orthopedic surgeon, the trail to medical college was years within the making. He took benefit of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s PROMISE program — quick for Promoting Recruitment Opportunities in Medicine with Individual Study Experiences — which assures acceptance to college students from deprived backgrounds who meet sure eligibility necessities, together with a 3.0 GPA of their undergraduate science courses.

During his sophomore yr as an undergraduate, Reedy noticed a chance to be taught extra about medical college when Haynes, the assistant dean, visited the Ole Miss campus in Oxford to interview college students.

“I saw some open slots, put my name down,” he stated. “The rest is history.”

Lauren Sausser:
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