Becoming a doctor is not an easy feat. There’s a lot of time, effort, stress, money and determination put into just getting into medical school, plus years of training before a doctor can practice on their own.
The profession has had an identity associated with it for decades that doesn’t necessarily resemble the ever changing demographics of America, but there’s a slow shift happening.
The Association of American Medical Colleges, AAMC, said applications to medical school are at an ‘all-time high.’ Specifically, they’ve noticed an increase in Black and Latino students applying to further dreams of becoming physicians.
There is not an exact reason to explain the increase, but experts believe the pandemic and other events from 2020 may have a role.
“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,” said Norma Poll-Hunter, PhD, Senior Director, Workforce Diversity Portfolio at AAMC
UNT Health Science Center Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth has also seen the same trend in their data when it comes to increased applications.
For example, there was almost a 40% increase in the number of Black applicants between 2020 and 2021. Admissions also saw a 21% increase in Latino applicants in the last year.
“You can see it over-and-over in application essays from minority applicants this year, especially about knowing that their communities are underserved in terms of medical providers that they can be a part of that change. That they’re interested in being in that and I think it’s only going to be better for American health care,” said Mike Kennedy, Asst. Dean for TCOM admissions.
Second-year medical student, Marcus Gonzalez, is from Little Elm and is currently in the process of becoming a physician and earning his Masters of Business Administration at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. His goal is to practice emergency medicine in DFW.
Gonzalez is a first generation college student.
“My main reason for going into medicine was my grandmother. My grandmother, grew up working in the fields. My mom as a kid had to help work in the fields and I’m the first generation that doesn’t have to do that,” said Gonzalez.
He said he had to rely on a lot of upperclassman going through the process of applying to med school to get help. That is why he currently spends his spare time mentoring pre-med students, to pay it back.
“A lot of the students that I mentor are minority students, and just seeing them go through the process… it seems like a lot of their friends, that are also minorities, are applying and getting in, so that’s just good to see. I mean I’m, Latino so it’s nice to see, you know, the next wave of physicians, being a little more diverse and more reflective of the population that we’re serving,” said Gonzalez.
The 24-year-old said he knows there are barriers between physicians and patients due to a lack of understanding of people’s background and hopes he can help bridge that gap.
“Sometimes we forget about the little things like that which is why we see Black and Latino patients kind of refuse to go to the doctor, they’re intimidated straight off the bat from the hospital itself and any potential bad news, but on top of that the communication barrier is there,” said Gonzalez.
There’s also been a push to get more Black men into the profession from other Black male physicians.
Dr. Dale Okorodudu is a pulmonary and critical care physician practicing at the Dallas VA Medical Center and also the Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
He is the founder of the documentary called “Black Men in White Coats.”
His goal is to show young Black boys that they too can be doctors.
“I want them to walk away feeling empowered. I want them to walk away feeling as though they have a role in this. I want them to walk away feeling as though this impacts them as well,” said Okorodudu. “Because it impacts them, they should want to take part in the solution. They can take part in the solution. So I want them to walk away saying, hey I can do something about this too.”
The overall mission of diversifying the pool of doctors across the state and country is seen as a way to provide better patient care.
“I think that now there’s more of a call to action across our nation, about really looking at the disparities in health care and how individuals who come from Latino, American Indian, Alaskan Native and Black communities can really make a difference in terms of patient care,” said Poll-Hunter.
Currently, there is a wide gap in the reflection of minority populations and the number of doctors representing those communities in Texas.
For example, according to 2019 data from the Texas Medical Association, Latinos made up about 40% of the Texas population, but only 7% are doctors.
As for Black people, they make up about 12% of the population and have about 6% doctors. The majority of doctors are Caucasian. In regards to the “other” category, which includes other ethnic groups, such as Asian descent, the amount of doctors almost is four times as much.
But even as more people show interest in wanting to become doctors, there are limits to the number of students who can be trained at a time.
“Medical school is very challenging unto itself, but we can only take so many students to train them effectively. So there’s that limitation even though we’re getting record numbers (of applicants),” said Kennedy. “Hopefully with more candidates coming in, we will start to have even more diversity to our classes, diversity of life experiences, where people are from and what they can contribute to everybody else in the classroom is very important in everybody’s education.”
But, more medical schools are popping up across the state and recently new programs have opened up at the University of Houston and Sam Houston State University.
“Ultimately, no matter what ethnicity you are, if you’re a white medical student, you’re interacting with more minorities, you’re going to practice in a culturally diverse community eventually or have an interest in that, we would like that for every, every medical student,” said Kennedy.
Want to Get on a Vaccine Waitlist?
As the state begins to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines for those in Phase 1A and 1B, county health departments have begun waitlists for those wish to be inoculated.
You can now register to recieve the vaccination in Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. Links are below:
You do not need to be a resident of the county to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in that county — registration is open to anyone in Texas. For those without internet access, Tarrant County is also taking registrations by phone at 817-248-6299. In Dallas County, call the DCHHS vaccine hotline at 1-855-IMMUNE9 (1-855-466-8639). In Denton County, call 940-349-2585.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.