Morehouse College of Medicine, a historically black medical school, and CommonSpirit Health, a nonprofit Catholic health system, have announced the creation of seven medical education programs at CommonSpirit hospitals across the country.
The partnership, called More in Common, is a projected $100 million initiative over 10 years aimed at reducing healthcare inequality in underserved and communities of color and diversifying the physicians who treat those communities.
Although inequalities in health care — not only on the basis of race, but also socio-economic and geographic — are long-standing, inequalities in the response to COVID-19 have made these inequalities almost impossible to ignore. Institutions take notice.
Erica Sutton, MD, associate dean for Academic Programs, Affiliations, and Undergraduate Medical Education at Morehouse Medical School said. That alone made this matter urgent.”
A number of studies have shown that physicians of color continue to work in disadvantaged communities more often than their white counterparts, and that patients who seek care of color benefit greatly from seeing a physician of their race and sharing their life experiences, including receiving preventive treatment. Often, better patient experiences are reported overall.
However, black individuals still represent only 5% of physicians nationwide, while they represent 13% of the US population. Through the partnership, Morehouse College of Medicine intends to double its enrollment at the university.
Morehouse College of Medicine, founded in 1975, was ranked among the top three U.S. medical schools in graduating the most black medical students from 2009-2019, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. The other two top-ranked centers were the medical schools affiliated with Black College and University (HBCU) as well.
The More in Common program is known for its support early in the lives of physicians of color, Sabrina Assumu, MD, MPH, longtime Boston University School of Medicine-awarded professor of medicine. President of Morehouse College of Medicine.
“This work takes time, patience and investment,” she said. MedPage today. “I think this is the boldest program I’ve seen so far, in terms of not saying ‘okay, we need doctors,’ but ‘we need to start with undergraduates’.”
After the initial announcement of the collaboration in December 2020, the school and health system finalized plans over the past year and are now working to launch three undergraduate and four graduate programs.
CommonSpirit Health is one of Medicaid’s largest health care providers, serving diverse communities in more than 21 states. There are plans to expand the program at five locations that could graduate up to 300 residents a year once the program reaches maturity.
Four medical students and one physician assistant student from Morehouse have already begun emergency medicine and clinical neurology courses through the program at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
After speaking with one of those students who finished a neuroscience course, Gary Greensweg, MD, senior vice president of the system and chief executive officer of the Physicians Foundation at CommonSpirit Health described “good, radiant vibrations coming from Chattanooga all the time.”
The next round of students will begin at CommonSpirit Hospitals in Lexington, Kentucky, and Seattle in the spring of 2022. Morehouse will also undertake the “academic sponsorship” of a program at California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles.
More in Common also has plans to start entirely new graduate medical programs at three California locations: Bakersfield, Santa Cruz, and Ventura County. It ultimately aims at 10 graduate medical education programs.
Increasing the clinical sites in which students train will allow the next generation of doctors of color to expand, according to Greensweg. “As long as you have a large enough classroom, you can train as many people as you can in the basic sciences, but the real challenge is where do they go for clinical training?” He said. “Our goal is to increase the number of training slots, which will help Morehouse increase class size.”
Osumu described the effect seeing a doctor had on patients to share their life experience. For example, one of her patients got the COVID vaccine after he watched Asomo talk about vaccination on TV, and because a black woman, Kismekia Corbett, led one of the NIH teams that developed the Moderna vaccine.
After a history of suffering from malaise in the healthcare system, she said, “They met me the first day and said, ‘Wow, she looks like me.’ And the advice she gave me, I’d probably listen to her a bit more because she knows how to pack it.”