Historically Black Medical Schools: Providing Critical Health Care, Training and Research

Ebony, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Historically Black Medical Schools: Providing Critical Health Care, Training and Research


AT the turn of the 20th century, there were seven historically Black medical schools. Today, there are three: Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., Meharry Medical College in Nashville, and Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Together with the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine (which is a joint program with the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine), Black medical programs today reportedly account for more than half of all Black medical graduates. But the contribution is even greater than that. These schools also conduct critical research--including, in at least one case, genetic studies--in a relentless search for solutions to Black health problems that ultimately help everyone regardless of race. The schools also are getting right down to basics, providing important clinical care, and community-based health education, all of which is fine-tuned to the dynamics of the communities they serve. "Culturally competent care" is how some refer to it. The need for such service continues to be acute. Many believe Black America is on the critical list when it comes to health care needs. "We are seeing a distressing widening of the gap between minority and non-minority populations," observes Dr. James R. Gavin III, president, Morehouse School of Medicine. Blacks still are disproportionately represented among victims of asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, prostate cancer, infant mortality and HIV/ AIDS. "Life expectancy is considerably less than that of the majority population," notes Dr. Floyd J. Malveaux, dean of the Howard University College of Medicine.

Serving the needs of a population at risk--including providing community education on healthy behavior--is what the historically Black institutions were designed to do. "We have to decide that health is an imperative for our community," insists Dr. John Maupin Jr., president of Meharry. "We want to be as healthy as everybody else. That has to be our long-term mission and vision." These schools are moving forward to meet future challenges, attracting faculty and researchers who can tailor studies to address critical needs, forming partnerships with other institutions to leverage resources, and, of course, attracting students who are committed to serving the underserved. Recruitment is an ongoing concern. "We have to do a much better job of educating counselors in high schools to let young people know of the tremendous opportunities available to them," notes Dr. Charles Sanders, dean of the Howard University College of Dentistry. There is the opportunity and the challenge for an emerging group of medical professionals to carry on in the tradition of the Black medical schools, serving the underserved, and encouraging the kind of healthy behavior that can save lives. "We have to decide that health is an imperative for our community," insists Dr. Maupin. "That has to be our long-term mission and vision."

OLDEST BLACK MEDICAL SCHOOL ESTABLISHED AT HOWARD IN 1868

THE oldest of the nation's historically Black medical schools, Howard's medical program was founded in 1868. As part of the Howard University campus in Washington, the Howard University Health Sciences Center includes the College of Medicine, the College of Dentistry, the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences, the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, as well as the Howard University Hospital and Student Health Center.

Howard medical students work with community organizations and schools to educate adults about all aspects of health care. "When we talk about training individuals, we train people not just to care for individuals, but also to care for community-based problems," insists Dr. Floyd J. Malveaux, dean of the Howard College of Medicine, which admits 125 students each year.

Howard currently is on the cutting edge of research, where partnerships with other institutions can be crucial in leveraging resources.

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