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Minorities avoiding med school

Nov. 6, 1997

By Stephanie Kugle

Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

The push toward ending affirmative action is turning minorities away from careers in medicine, a report released Saturday by the Association of American Colleges said.

Students in Texas, California, Louisiana and Mississippi are affected most directly by the Hopwood decision and Proposition 209, which eliminate preferential minority admissions standards. Minority admissions in these states diminished 17 percent from 1996 to 1997. Unaffected states, in comparison, saw minority admissions decline by 7 percent.

"It is clear from our tracking data that the climate engendered by the Hopwood decision and Prop. 209 is discouraging minorities from applying to medical school, "said AAMC president Dr. Jordan J. Cohen in a Nov. 3 press release. "We find it particularly alarming that a large percentage of under-represented minorities are not just avoiding medical schools in California, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, but choosing not to pursue careers in medicine at all."

Gabriel Calzada, an El Paso senior and biochemistry major, said affirmative action should be revised, not completely eliminated.

"With regards to affirmative action and minority scholarships, a total abandonment of these programs will greatly hinder 'qualified' minorities from getting into institutions of higher learning," Calzada said. "Many argue that if the minorities were qualified, they would not need help. Such is not the case. One must believe that there are enough minorities that are capable and qualified to fill the institutions of higher learning so that the percentage of minority students reflects the percentage of minorities in the community it serves."

Christine Gonzalez, a Laredo junior and pre-med biology major, countered Calzada's argument.

"I don't think it truly affects me," Gonzalez said. "I think I can get in on my own merit."

Even so, Texas medical schools have seen a definite drop in minority enrollment since the Hopwood decision, said Dr. David Pennington, chemistry professor and president of the Premedical/Predentistry Advisory Committee.

Texas medical schools were very close to having good representations of minorities "when the Hopwood case came on board and shot holes in admissions statistics," he said.

At the 108th annual meeting of the AAMC in Washington, D.C. last week, which Pennington attended, there was a report presented about the University of Texas medical system.

"Three out of four schools in the UT system had very, very limited success in enrolling minority applicants," Pennington said. UT Galveston was the most successful, enrolling 19 ethnic minorities.

"Two out of the other three schools had one minority a piece enrolled," he said.

Of the 125 Baylor pre-med students applying to medical school this year, only 12 to 15 are ethnic minorities, Pennington said.

"I am encouraging those students to apply to Texas schools," he said.

To encourage minority applications without using ethnicity as a factor in admissions, medical schools are looking at other criteria to determine ways to diversify incoming students.

"In previous years, Caucasians were compared to Caucasians, African-Americans compared to African-Americans, Hispanic/Mexican Americans considered among applicants in that ethnic group and Native Americans against other Native Americans," Pennington said.

New factors, such as a student being from a medically underserved community, may now be weighed more heavily in the admissions process, he said.

Some health care professionals think the drop in minority medical school students will have an ill effect on future health care services to minority-rich areas. Fewer minority physicians means that poorer areas often served by minorities will be without medical services.

Still, some think the gaps left open by minority students in minority-rich areas will be filled by white applicants.

"Doctors go where they think they have a chance of setting up a successful practice," Gonzalez. "I don't think a minority area would be an unsuccessful area. "

Pennington disagrees.

"The market has left us with 40 million uninsured and underserved people," he said. "I don't think market forces will ever (draw white) physicians to medically underserved areas of the state or country. (Physicians) tend to go where heightened medical technology is available and it's not usually available in areas outside of large cities. Some people choose to do that out of genuine altruism, but market force doesn't pull them there. I wouldn't look for that to happen in my lifetime. "

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