CommonSpirit partners with Morehouse to train Black physicians

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Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health is partnering with historically Black Morehouse School of Medicine to establish medical school campuses and graduate medical education programs across the country in an effort to increase the number of minority physicians.

The organizations announced on Wednesday plans to commit $21 million over the next two years as part of a 10-year, $100 million initiative to develop a joint undergraduate and graduate medical education program to train a minimum of 300 additional clinicians from historically underrepresented communities.

CommonSpirit Health CEO Lloyd Dean said a key motivation for the collaboration with Morehouse was to leverage the success the historically Black medical school has had in producing Black physicians who pursue careers in primary care. Of the 100 medical students Morehouse enrolls each year, an estimated 70% go on to practice medicine in an underserved community, said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, with as many as half deciding to practice back in their own communities.

“There is no greater institution in this country that has a legacy of training, placing and developing Black physicians and clinicians than the Morehouse School of Medicine,” Dean said.

Montgomery Rice said participants in the program will be recruited from underserved communities to spend their first two years of study at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Students during third and fourth year will continue their medical training serving an underserved area in one of five new regional medical school campuses Morehouse and CommonSpirit will establish.

Upon graduation Montgomery Rice said students will have the option to do their physician residency training at a graduate medical education program in at least 10 CommonSpirit markets that will be set up around the country. The location of the markets that will offer residency training as part of the program is expected to be announced next spring.

Montgomery Rice said the program should increase the size of Morehouse’s medical school student class from 100 to 200 and triple the number of graduate medical education slots for residency training from 125 to close to 400 over the next 10 years.

Dean said the program will look to become a model for other historically Black medical schools to seek out similar types of collaborations with health systems. But Dean envisions the partnership helping to inspire others to use the model as a springboard for addressing health and healthcare disparities. He said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color as well as the protests for racial justice have highlighted the urgent need to address such issues.

“We believe, with the anchor of the Morehouse School of Medicine and the need to never ever again repeat what has happened around the world to address such a pandemic, that there are others who have said that they want to be a part of a real solution,” Dean said. “We believe that his partnership provides them an opportunity to do something that is real, that is timely, and that truly can make a difference.”

A key objective of the program will be to improve diversity in the clinical workforce as a means of fostering more culturally competent care delivery systems. Mounting evidence has shown a diverse healthcare workforce can help to improve inequities in healthcare access and care quality patients from minority and underserved communities disproportionately experience that attribute to them having poorer health outcomes.

Overall, historically Black medical schools like Morehouse have produced the country’s largest share of Black medical graduates. Of the 155 accredited medical schools in the U.S., the four historically Black programs—Morehouse, Howard University School of Medicine in Washington D.C., Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, and Meharry Medical College in Tennessee—have graduated a larger share of Black medical students than the other top 10 medical schools combined over the past decade.

The most recent figures from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that despite the number of Black medical students entering medical school increased by 10% in 2020 compared to last year Black students still only make up less than 10% of total first-year students.

Norma Poll-Hunter, senior director of human capital portfolio at AAMC, said historically Black medical schools have set the standard for creating a diverse student body and making care for underserved communities a key part of their educational mission. “They are definitely models of how your mission is interwoven in your recruitment, outreach and enrollment of Black students,” Poll-Hunter said.

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