Health Care

UM’s medical school is whiter than Miami. A group of students wants to change that

A file photo shows the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Complex. The Medical School was recently ranked average on a variety of racial justice metrics by a group of medical students.
A file photo shows the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Complex. The Medical School was recently ranked average on a variety of racial justice metrics by a group of medical students. EL NUEVO HERALD

Miami is brimming with diversity, but the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine doesn’t adequately reflect that in the percentage of black and Hispanic students and professors, according to a new report by a group of medical students focused on racial justice.

The group, White Coats 4 Black Lives, released its second annual report on racial equality in medical schools last week, judging 17 medical schools on 14 different metrics. The report graded the UM medical school as a “C+,” a middle-of-the-pack ranking.

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine pushed back against the report, saying that diversity and inclusion are “part of the core values of the University of Miami, values that are championed by leadership and disseminated to all.”

“At every touchpoint of our mission, we strive for racial equality and an atmosphere that is inclusive of the many different people who make up our community,” the school said in a statement.

Seven medical students from UM, who are members of White Coats 4 Black Lives, collaborated with about a dozen additional faculty and students who were affiliated with the local chapter of Campaign Against Racism for the report.

The Campaign Against Racism was founded by Camara Jones, past president of the American Public Health Association, and is a subset of the Social Medicine Consortium, a group of healthcare providers aiming to dismantle structural racism.

One of the top concerns for the groups involved in the report was the racial makeup of the school’s faculty, based on data collected from the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the demographics of the student body.

About 3% of medical school faculty is black, compared to about 16% of Miami-Dade County’s population. And the student body has 60 black students, or 7% of the 2018-2019 class, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The report also looked at Latinx people — a gender-neutral term for Latina or Latino — and found that they make up about 69% of Miami-Dade County’s population, but account for only 10.6% of the student body and 27% of the school’s faculty, according to data from the school’s diversity office and the AAMC.

Chris Garcia-Wilde, a second-year medical student who helped organize the study at UM, said it’s important that the medical student body reflects the demographics of Miami because “we’re the ones on the front lines engaging the community.”

“In the hospitals and in the health fairs and in the clinics, we need medical students who can understand and who can build trust with patients to ensure better health outcomes,” Garcia-Wilde said.

Going back decades, studies have shown that minority patients are more likely to pursue certain medical procedures if they are recommended by healthcare providers who share their cultural and racial backgrounds.

Last year, the National Bureau of Economic Research built upon that body of research, releasing a study based on 1,300 black men in California’s Bay Area that found the men were more likely to agree to invasive procedures and preventative screenings if they saw black doctors, attributing that outcome to better communication.

Garcia-Wilde said that structural racism has permeated areas of education, health and wealth, and has a cumulative effect that manifests in skewed health outcomes for marginalized communities. That, he said, is why it’s crucial to get more underrepresented minorities into medical schools and working as healthcare providers.

“The lack of representation leads to poor health outcomes,” Garcia-Wilde said. “It’s serious that racism kills.”

White Coats For Black Lives’ Racial Justice Report Card graded medical schools on metrics ranging from recruitment, anti-racism training, grade disparities, and policies about safeguarding undocumented patients from immigration officials. UM’s Miller School of Medicine was the only Florida medical school graded.

The Miller School of Medicine received high marks for its system of collecting student and faculty reports of racism and oppression, but didn’t rate as well in other metrics such as making public data on how minority students are performing or how many are enrolled in honors programs.

The medical school did not respond to the specific criticisms levied by the report, saying instead that “it is impossible and inaccurate to represent an institution’s comprehensive and evolving efforts to achieve racial justice into a simple letter grade.”

A Miller school spokesperson also emphasized that the school won an award last year for its efforts on diversity and inclusion. The school also last year named Henri Ford, a Haitian immigrant, as dean of the medical school.

Medical schools have been grappling with diversity problems for at least a decade. In 2009, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, an accrediting body for medical schools, established new guidelines on diversity in an attempt to improve representation for minority groups.

A newly released cross-sectional study of medical school students from 2002 to 2017 by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that black, Latinx, and American Indian or Alaska Native people remain underrepresented in medical schools compared with the U.S. population, despite the new accreditation guidelines.

The study, “Trends in Racial/Ethnic Representation Among US Medical Students,” suggested “a need for both the development and the evaluation of more robust policies and programs to create a physician workforce that is demographically representative of the U.S. population.”