Black people have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic from unemployment and furloughs to housing disparities and economic instability. There’s also a rising number of COVID-19 cases in BIPOC communities. But something good has come from this pandemic, a recent reported surge of Black medical school applicants, according to NBC News.
While there are only 5 percent of doctors reported to be Black, per NBC News, medical schools have been taking notice of the up to 43 percent increase in Black applicants since the beginning of the pandemic. Howard University’s College of Medicine reported a 28 percent increase in Black applicants, while Morehouse School of Medicine reported 26 percent and Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Medicine with 43 percent.
“We’re now at over 10,800 applications, and we only enroll 130 students,” said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick, Ph.D. “We have a crisis in our country and maybe this pandemic created the opportunity for us to change that trend.”
Social justice issues and racial disparities inferred to have a great deal to do with the increase in applicants amidst COVID-19 deaths and cases in the Black community. NBC reported that there was nearly a 40 percent increase in the number of Black applicants in medical school between 2020 and 2021, while admissions increased by 21 percent in Latino applicants over the past year.
“I think we can look at our society and what’s happening on the news day-to-day in terms of not only the COVID-19 crisis and how it’s disproportionately impacting our communities of color, but also thinking about the recent social protests and really greater awareness around anti-racism and the importance of really looking at systems change, and that’s true for medicine as well,” Norma Poll-Hunter, Ph.D, senior director of workforce diversity portfolio at AAMC, explained in an interview with NBC.
Reuben William Horace Jr, MPH, a student at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, was already in medical school at the start of the pandemic and gearing up to start his third year in medical school in preparation for his transition from the classroom to the hospital. At the top of his school year, COVID cases were trending at an all-time high which made him fearful about being exposed to the coronavirus, while working hand-in-hand with doctors, nurses and hospital staff.
“My experiences in medical school during this pandemic has offered me the opportunity to experience many positive and powerful moments with my patients but also the sacrifices inherent to a career in medicine. Although there have been many challenges during the course of my rotations, It is an honor and privilege to serve as a rising fourth year medical student and future emergency medicine physician,” he told Blavity.
As reported by Wall Street Journal via the Association of American Medical Colleges, the total number of medical school applicants jumped 17 percent since September 2020 with nearly 50,000 applications through August 2020. Medical school applications have been on the rise since the 2008 recession, Wall Street Journal also noted, but last year’s application cycle skyrocketed in record breaking numbers. According to USA Today, medical school applications for the forthcoming fall semester have increased by a total 18 percent, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents 155 U.S. institutions.
“I believe the surge of Black enrollees in medical school has been due to many factors. The first, in part, there is a less than adequate amount of representation of Black physicians in the country. That paired with the current state of COVID health disparities with Black folks, it begins to show that there needs to be something done to help combat these healthcare disparities,” Horace continued.
Horace, who is currently pursuing a doctor of osteopathic medicine and masters of business administration from New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), also credits overwhelming expenses and lack of representation in the field to reasons behind the increase. Due to travel restrictions and guidelines, virtual interviews have been held for aspiring medical school candidates to help eliminate the cost of fees during this hard economic time.
“Many medical schools have also adopted a new policy of waiving the MCAT for the current cycle, which historically has disadvantaged underrepresented minority students due to the cost burden inherent with exams,” he said. “There needs to be more focus on doing a better job of not only supporting Black students interested in pursuing a career in medicine but also being willing to help mentor and guide these students toward their goal.”