Besting the Ivies

Article excerpt

University of Florida a leading producer of grads who go on to become M.D.s

Which colleges and universities graduate the most Black students with bachelor's degrees who then make it through medical school and become doctors?

Two historically Black schools lead the pack. Xavier University continues to dominate, with 60 of its alumni graduating from medical schools around the country last year. Howard University is next, with 43. Xavier has been number one for two decades or longer, and Howard consistently hangs close to the top.

The next school on the list is a bit of a surprise. The majority White university that produced the largest number of Black undergraduates who earned MDs in 2011, with 26, is the University of Florida, edging out Harvard, Yale, Duke and Stanford universities.

"I'm excited to hear that," says Dr. Donna Parker, associate dean for diversity and health equity at Florida's College of Medicine, who plays a role in advising minority undergraduates interested in becoming physicians.

Nationally, the state flagship in Gainesville is known for producing professional football players like Tim Tebow and Emmitt Smith. But the University of Florida is actually better at preparing Black students for careers in medicine. Last season, 35 former students of all races and ages played in the National Football League; more Black graduates, 41, finished medical school in the last two years alone.

"I think it reflects just a strong commitment of the undergraduate admissions process in actively recruiting academically highly-qualified individuals from various ethnic and racial groups, and that there's a large population of both African-American and Hispanic individuals in the state of Florida," says Dr. Joseph Fantone, senior associate dean for educational affairs at the University of Florida College of Medicine.

In the state of Florida, which is 16 percent Black, and in the Southeast, the university already has a reputation beyond football. For a decade, about 40 percent of freshmen have declared an interest in medicine or another health profession, according to Dr. Albert Metheny, director of academic advising in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

'You almost get the sense that we've been identified as the place you go to get into med school or one of the health professions," Metheny says. "We've really gotten that kind of identity among the undergraduates, at least in the state of Florida certainly, and in the surrounding states as well."

Secrets to success

A combination of factors appears behind Florida's success in preparing Black students to make the intense slog through medical school.

Campus administrators confirmed the presence of the factors that Dr. Marc Nivet, chief diversity officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, cites as common to schools that see many Black graduates become doctors: effective prehealth advising of undergraduates, a large enrollment, rigorous curriculum, a medical school, an active Student National Medical Association chapter and, as Metheny notes, a reputation for graduates entering health professions.

The Association of American Medical Colleges ranked the top 10 undergraduate schools of Black medical school applicants and graduates for the last 10 years for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

On those measures, the University of Florida has done better than its rankings by U.S. News & World Report as 19th among public schools and 58th among national universities.

Since 2004, Florida has ranked in the top 10 in the number of Black graduates who apply to medical school, rising to third behind Xavier and Howard in 2007 and staying there since then.

In Black alumni graduating from medical school, Florida broke into the top 10 as number nine in 2009, dipped to number 10 the next year and then leapt to third in 2011. Nivet says the types of schools that comprise that list have been consistent over the years. …