By Gary Axelbank
March 12, 2018
In 1955 Yeshiva University created what is now the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to provide opportunites in medicine for Jewish students who were not permitted to enroll in medical schools in the years after World War II.
This is confirmed in a founding document typed and signed in 1951 by atomic genius Albert Einstein who not only urged the creation of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM) to foster opportunities in medicine for Jews, but with the understanding that the institution would, “welcome all creeds and races.”
A copy of the original document was provided to thisistheBronx because AECOM physicians and administrators are concerned that the college’s founding concepts and their on-going efforts in recruiting and nurturing students of color to work in medicine, particularly black men, could be undermined by the upcoming New York State budget.
According to the AECOM Office of Diversity Enhancement, although 31% of the State’s workforce is black and Latino, their representation in the medical work force is just 12%. The irony of a shortage of medical students in the Bronx, a borough with a huge health care presence, is unmistakable.
The reasons for the gross disparity are many. Assistant Dean Nilda Soto maintains that many students don’t pursue medical careers because they don’t complete high school and the ones who do have had holes in their education. She recalled the frustration of one student who complained that there were pages missing from her high school textbooks.
Maybe more significantly, she says, is a lack of role models.
“When did they ever see a black or Latino physician?” she asked rhetorically. “When did they ever think, that could be me?”
AECOM is doing its part to fulfill Einstein’s stated goal of a diverse student body. Soto runs the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), a comprehensive educational opportunity program that operates in fourteen Bronx high schools with emphasis on recruiting young men into medicine with programs at Cardinal Hayes, Mount St. Michael, and St. Raymond’s.
Since the establishment of STEP in 1988 they’ve tracked fourteen students who have become doctors and others who are biomedical engineers, nurses and nurses assistants, and in related fields.
Despite those considerable efforts, Soto says that currently only 2.6% of the college’s annual enrollment are black males. That’s why maintaining funding levels for programs and scholarships, she says, is so vital.
Over the last nine years State funding for diversity programs to encourage students of color to enter the health field has declined steadily from a high of nearly $2 million to a proposed 2019 budget of less than a million.
But, unlike so many other debates in the State legislature, the issue is apparently not one of partisanship, but of budget realities.
“All three sides (Democrats, Republicans, Governor) recognize the importance of it,” said Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake. “I don’t see a budget happening without diversity in medicine. It’s too important to the state.”
Although Blake and Buffalo Assembly member Crystal D. Stokes champion the issue, there is still grave concern. In a release, the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY) claimed that State funding cuts would be devastating to the future of diversity in medicine programs, which are important to not only job opportunities for Bronx youth but also to the delivery of effective health care.
“Studies have shown that if you have physicians of similar background with knowledge of your culture and knowledge of your language, you will see better care and are more likely to comply with whatever directions and medications the physician will have,” Soto said.
Taken further, lack of diversity in medical practitioners directly impacts the sensitive doctor/patient relationship in the private spaces of the examining room.
“So much of medicine is a trust exercise,” said Assemblyman Blake. “You’re going into a place where something is not right and I trust you to help me and you help create that trust if you have someone who has walked in your shoes. That’s why it’s so important to us.”
Andre Bryan, M.D., M.B.A., a graduate of the STEP program and a resident physician at Montefiore Medical Center specializing in anesthesiology, wrote about the importance of supporting diversity in medicine in 2016. (He’s in the photo above)