Academic journal article Education

Educating Minority Students for the Health Professions: Taking a Quantum Leap to Meet the Challenge

Academic journal article Education

Educating Minority Students for the Health Professions: Taking a Quantum Leap to Meet the Challenge

Article excerpt

The Challenge

Health care reform in the United States has emerged as the most important social issue for the 90s. An essential component of this reformation is the need to change the system currently used to educate health professionals. The challenge confronting education in this reform movement is the need to produce sufficient numbers and types of health professionals to meet new demands of a diverse society. Awareness of disparities in health care outcomes for some citizens increases the pressure on the health professions to produce primary care providers who more realistically represent the diversity of our society. The challenge is to revolutionize the education system through changing attitudes, changing the methodologies used to educate professionals, and through enhancing minority representation in the health professions.

According to The Report of the Pew Health Professions Commission (PEW, 1993), nurses and allied health professionals will he essential players in the future primary and preventive health care system. These providers comprise a major portion of the health care workforce, and both groups are facing severe personnel shortages. This report emphasizes the need to increase the number of minority professionals, and challenges educators to refocus educational pedagogy toward health promotion, declining access, and the growing cost of health care. These challenges are not new. The report by Heckler titled Black and Minority Health (US DHHS, 1985) emphasized the need for culturally sensitive health care providers. Louis Sullivan's Healthy People 2000 (US PHS, 1990) cited the need to increase the number of minority health professionals, and the Report of the Lower Mississippi Delta Commission (Clinton, 1990), chaired by then Governor Bill Clinton, underscored the need to recruit students into the health professions who are more likely to remain in inner cities and rural areas of the South. Additionally, the growing consumer movement holds education systems accountable for meeting current needs of society by providing a complement of professionals who more realistically represent today's diversity. Still, the percentage of minority students enrolled in schools of health professions today is less than their representation in the total population (US DHHS, 1991).

The "Quantum Leap"

The major impediments to change in education are traditional attitudes about professionalism and the academic achievement of minorities. Humphries (1992) labeled these attitudes "institutional racism," and suggested that a "quantum leap" is required to change the way we think about minorities and academic achievement in the health professions. According to Humphries, educators must take the leap, and academic leaders must take action to erase the myths about scholastic abilities and licensure exam success potential of minorities. Not only must we change the methodologies used to educate minorities, but we must re-examine traditional indicators of academic success.

Kemp (1990) and Robinson (1990) suggest that higher education should focus beyond retention of minority students and toward graduation and social productivity. According to these authors, minorities want to be educated and graduated, not simply retained. For African Americans, a college degree is a means to cross barriers and realize progress. To understand the gap between entry and exit of minority students, these authors suggest that higher education analyze attrition and graduation rates.

Family income, parent's education and high school grades are factors associated with initial enrollment in college (Ballantine, 1989). Studies indicate that (1) the average reading level of Blacks and Hispanics is 4 years lower than White students, (2) more Black students than White students pursue higher education on a part time basis, (3) Black students take longer than White students to complete their college degrees, and (4) historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are more successful than predominately White institutions in retaining and graduating minority students (Ballantine, 1989; Fleming, 1984; Morris, 1979; Syverson & Froster, 1983; Thomas, 1981; Thomas, McPartland, & Gottfredson, 1981). …

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