On Aug. 5, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine welcomed 148 first-year students into the medical profession at their annual White Coat Ceremony. The future Class of 2017 is 54 percent male, 46 percent female and less than 10 percent African-American.

While Pitt’s Black representation isn’t reflective of the racial makeup in the general population, their African-American enrollment is higher than national averages. In 2005 African-Americans made up only 8 percent of all first-year medical students throughout the country, an increase of only 1 percent since 1975.

ALL SMILES—Amari Howard of Queens, N.Y., receives her white coat during the University of Pittsburgh ceremony. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“If you look at the history, it’s been a predominantly White male profession. It’s only been recently that recognizing diversity is important,” said Michael Daley, 27, one of the incoming students. “Patients need to see faces they can relate to.”

In 2010, Pitt’s medical school led the pack in overall African-American enrollment out of all Pennsylvania medical schools. While Pitt came in at 8.7 percent, the average was 5.8 percent.

“They do have a very diverse class and I think there are activities for under represented minorities,” said first-year student Michael Osnard, 23. “In the past we were not given the chance to be part of these action groups, but now there are movements and policies in place to recruit underrepresented minorities to address the change in population.”

While African-Americans make up 13 percent of the United States population, they represent less than 3 percent of the nation’s doctors, a statistic that has remained stagnant over the past 30 years.

“I think inspiring younger students is one way to increase minority presence in the medical profession. It’s important for people to be able to be treated by people who look like them and talk like them,” said first-year student Lorraine Boakye, 23. “One thing for me that’s been very important is having very strong mentors. Even though I’ll be the first physician in my family, I’ve been able to have strong women to look up to.”

Several of the new first-year students said mentoring is a vital way to increase the number of African-Americans in the medical profession. They also agreed it’s important to increase the number of Black doctors because African-Americans are more likely to seek medical care when they can be helped by someone who looks like them.

“Minorities are especially important because we aren’t granted as many opportunities as others, especially in the medical profession,” said Amari Howard, 22. “Since we’re diverse, we’re better able to deal with different populations because we’ve gone through similar experiences.”

In 2011, the number of African-Americans applying for medical school increased by 4.8 percent. Despite the increase in the number of Blacks applying, some of the new medical students at Pitt said the applicants are at a disadvantage because they come from underserved communities where they didn’t have access to a quality education.

“I want to work with underserved populations. I’m from an underserved community so I want to take my expertise and help others,” Howard said. “There’s a lack of interest in some underserved schools in the inner-city. Education is a big issue in getting more minorities in the medical profession.”

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