Affirmative Action in Medical Education and Its Effect on Howard and Meharry

A Study of the Class of 1975

Published in: Journal of the National Medical Association, v. 80, no. 2, Feb. 1988, p. 153-158

by Steven N. Keith, Robert M. Bell, Albert P. Williams

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During the decade of the 1970s, affirmative action programs were introduced in US medical schools for the purpose of increasing the number of black and other minority medical students and of improving the medical care resources for black and other minority communities. Having for many years served as the main sources of black physicians in the US, Howard University College of Medicine and Meharry Medical College School of Medicine were also affected by affirmative action. No previous studies have compared the black graduates from Howard and Meharry with black and other minority graduates from the other US medical schools. The purpose of this study was to compare these medical school graduates in terms of actual choice of specialty, patient characteristics, practice location, and specialty board certification, using the graduating class of 1975. A greater proportion of black graduates from Howard and Meharry chose primary care specialties than did black graduates from other schools, though this difference was not statistically significant. Black graduates from Howard and Meharry had significantly greater proportions of black patients compared with black graduates from other schools, but the same proportion of Medicaid patients. Though not statistically significant, black graduates from Howard and Meharry were less likely to be found practicing in federally designated underserved areas. Black graduates from Meharry were significantly less likely to have achieved specialty board certification, compared with graduates from Howard or the other medical schools. These results illustrate the experience of Howard and Meharry during the era of affirmative action and generally support their critically important role in producing black physicians and enhancing medical care resources in the black community.

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