Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Rx for Success: Xavier Consistently Ranks among the Top Producers of Black Students Accepted by Medical School

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Rx for Success: Xavier Consistently Ranks among the Top Producers of Black Students Accepted by Medical School

Article excerpt

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Even on the sixth anniversary of the hurricane that buckled the Crescent City in 2005, left much of Xavier University of New Orleans under water and its faculty and students scattered by the rushing winds, Dr. JW Carmichael didn't expect to be talking that morning about Katrina. For him it was a horrific storm that nearly drowned a hundred dreams as his students prepared their applications for medical school.

But on Katrina's anniversary, Carmichael and his team of two pre-med advisors were off and running, readying this year's 359 new pre-med majors for where they planned to land in the year 2015--medical school--and inching Xavier's juniors and seniors closer to taking and acing the penultimate exam of their undergraduate career--the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.

For the 71-year-old Carmichael, director of Xavier's renowned pre-med program, that morning's conversation was like most of the ones that he has, even with a stranger. It centered on the people he says he cares most deeply about, "my students."

As he does every year, in July, Carmichael posted the names of the students who "made it" in 2010. Ninety-five percent of the 359 Xavier students accepted into medical, dental, veterinary medicine, optometry, podiatric medicine, chiropractic, public health, or health administration programs, he says, were African-American. Of those Xavier graduates, 248 enrolled in medical school and 42 went to dental school.

But Carmichael, the man that Xavier University President Norman Francis calls "an icon in STEM education for minority students," is, in an instant, haunted by the time he didn't get all of his deserving and prepared students into medical school. It must have been the late 1970s or early 1980s, recalls Carmichael. It was the time that "I felt that I didn't do as much as I should have or could have to help get them in (medical school). I couldn't help but think that it was my fault.

"I said never again," adds Carmichael of the vow he made then not to let distractions and competing faculty demands detract him from his goal.

As he talked about the destruction left in Hurricane Katrina's wake, Carmichael remembered that vow and recounted the harrowing story that may explain why many of his students, colleagues and those in the academy call him part hero and part educator. Vacationing in Texas with his brother when Katrina arrived in 2005, a health-challenged Carmichael worked successfully, around the clock, and from a distance, to keep his scattered pre-med students on track for applying to medical school even as most of their records and letters of recommendation were swallowed by Katrina.

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Despite the natural disaster, 103 Xavier students in fall 2006 were accepted into medical, dental, pharmacy and other professional health schools. Today, Carmichael says, Xavier is solidly among the nation's top 10 producers of African-American students placed into medical schools, but it isn't in its long-held No.1 spot. Pre-med students who started during and immediately after the hurricane have since graduated, but campus-wide, enrollment a decade later is still in recovery mode post-Katrina.

In 2008, historically Black Meharry Medical College presented Carmichael with an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree for "his success in making Xavier the undisputed leader in African American medical school acceptances." It also was an opportunity to reunite with more than 40 Xavier graduates who were studying or had trained as physicians at Meharry, one of the top medical school choices for his students. Louisiana's School of Medicine and its New Orleans Medical School, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the University of Texas admit most of Xavier's graduates, he pointed out.

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