Howard, Meharry Cry Foul over Newspaper's Questionable Study: Findings Disparage Academic Quality of Black Medical Schools, Graduates

Article excerpt

NASHVILLE, TENN.

News of a recent study by a Connecticut newspaper suggesting that graduates of Howard and Meharry medical schools were among the nation's most reprimanded physicians left officials at both institutions and their alumni steaming with rage.

The study, conducted by The Hartford Courant and published the last week in June, called into question the academic quality of the two historically Black medical schools, the competence of their graduates and the future of the medical students who currently attend them.

"Classmates that I have spoken with are outraged," says Dr. David Travillion, a 2002 graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, and a resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Travillion heard about the newspaper's findings while listening to an interview with one of the study's authors on National Public Radio.

"The report made me feel self-conscious at first," he says. "I expected to be confronted by colleagues.... I think it will bring unwarranted scrutiny on Meharry graduates."

Both Howard, Meharry and a number of other organizations in the medical profession questioned the newspaper's methodology and, therefore, its findings. Among them were Dr. Jordan Cohen of the Association of American Medical Colleges; Dr. L. Natalie Carroll, president of the National Medical Association; and Dr. Roxane Spitzer, CEO of Meharry's teaching hospital, Nashville General.

"We are reviewing the methodology employed by The Hartford Courant," a statement on Howard University's Web site, posted July 7, said. "We also question the failure of The Hartford Courant to appropriately distinguish the type and manner of discipline involved in these cases and the reasons for the discipline. There is no way to determine, based upon the article, whether the discipline was in the form of an admonition, censure, suspension or revocation of license."

Carroll of the National Medical Association, the leading organization of African American physicians, said in a July 1 letter to the newspaper's editor:

"We at the National Medical Association are extremely disturbed by the article's unsubstantiated findings and the sweepingly negative implications upon the medical community at large, and specifically upon two premier medical colleges that have educated a large number of the nation's physicians of color."

Prior to the newspaper's publication of the articles, Meharry President John Maupin said he asked one of the reporters of the study if the school could have access to the data in order to properly review them. The reporter said he would share some of it but not all, according to Maupin.

"Without being provided with the data in full, in the same format as it was obtained by the newspaper, we felt denied the opportunity to make an informed response," Maupin said in a July 18 interview.

Regarding the methodology, Maupin said:

"First, we still don't know what methodology the paper used.... The paper did not provide the complete analysis of the data, explaining their precise methodology. In fact, the most basic question concerning this group of physicians, 'When did they graduate from medical school'? was never addressed in the article.

"Second, the paper looked at all disciplinary actions taken as a result of any infraction. ... Without knowing the specifics of the infractions, it is impossible to judge how a physician's medical school experience may have ultimately contributed to it.... Finally ... there are any number of factors one must thoroughly review if trying to determine the causal relationship associated with disciplinary action against a physician. It is erroneous and just simply faulty to make a direct relationship between disciplinary actions and the quality of medical school education alone."

The implications of the study's findings were not lost on The Hartford Courant's editorial staff. …