Campus & Community

Medical School recognized for excellence in minority health

4 min read

Harvard Medical School’s Minority Faculty Development Program (MFDP), established in 1990 to increase minority faculty development, recruitment, and retention – as well as to expand the local pool of minority students seeking careers in science and medicine from grade school to graduate school – has received the prestigious Center of Excellence in Minority Health designation from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As a Center of Excellence in Minority Health, the MFDP will receive a $1.6 million grant over three years.

“Receiving the Center of Excellence in Minority Health distinction for our minority faculty development and student pipeline programs is a significant milestone for the School’s efforts,” says Joan Reede, Medical School dean for diversity and community partnership, the office that oversees the MFDP. “This award is also a tremendous recognition of the determination of our affiliated hospitals, the Boston public school system, and the Boston business community. Building a diverse physician and biomedical work force requires a partnership of many organizations, both local and national. The results of these efforts will be better health-care outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities in our community,” says Reede, who recently was named the first African-American female dean in the history of Harvard University.

With few exceptions, racial and ethnic minorities experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality than nonminorities and often receive a lower standard of care. Several recent studies show:

  • African-American men are 26 percent more likely than white men to die of heart disease
  • Forty percent of heart disease deaths in African-American men occur before age 65
  • Diabetes rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives rose 29 percent from 1990 to 1997
  • African-American and Hispanic women accounted for 81 percent of new AIDS cases from July 1999 to June 2000
  • Nearly 40 percent of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander population has limited English proficiency, which can be a significant barrier in accessing health services and treatment
  • African-American patients were much less likely than white patients to have been referred to a transplantation center for evaluation or to have been placed on a waiting list for kidney transplants

    Congress commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to address the growing and already high levels of disease-prevalence gaps between minorities and nonminorities. The IOM report, released in 2002, documented that racial bias, historical mistrust, and communication barriers between health-care workers and patients were strongly associated with differential treatment standards, low patient satisfaction levels, and poor long-term health outcomes. The report’s recommendations included increasing the proportion of underrepresented U.S. racial and ethnic minorities among health professions.

    Though minorities make up more than 25 percent of the U.S. population, they are only 10 percent of the health-care work force. A decline in the number of underrepresented minority (URM) applications to U.S. medical schools is making this situation worse. Applications from URM students decreased from 5,157 in 1996 to 4,091 in 2001, according to figures from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    Recognizing the need to create a systemic strategy for the development, recruitment, and retention of minority clinical and biomedical faculty at Harvard Medical School and its 17 affiliated hospitals, the School launched the Minority Faculty Development Program in 1990. The MFDP has since created a range of overlapping pipe-line programs, ranging from grade school mentoring initiatives in the Boston and Cambridge public school system to career development and ladder programs for current faculty.

    The results from these long-term efforts are beginning to emerge. From 1997 to 2001, the number of URM assistant professors grew from 31 to 51, and the number at the instructor level grew from 222 to 403. In the 2000-2001 academic year, MFDP middle and high school programs, which foster a lifelong interest in science among minority students, served a total of 452 students.