Release Date: May 8, 2018
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Medical school is a daunting financial proposition for anyone, but for those from underrepresented groups it can be a deal-breaker.
That financial barrier is one of the major factors leading to the lack of physicians from underrepresented groups. Even in a diverse state like New York, where African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos comprise more than 30 percent of the population, they make up only 12 percent of the physician workforce, according to data from the State University of New York Albany Center for Health Workforce Studies.
University at Buffalo medical students Karole Collier and Bradley Frate are part of a statewide effort to change that. Both students in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB were among 10 statewide recipients of the new Diversity in Medicine scholarship first funded by the New York State Legislature in 2017 and renewed in the state budget passed last month. The renewal means that they will have most of their medical school tuition covered for 2018-19. In return, the students must commit to work in a New York State-designated medically underserved community.
Collier and Frate are also graduates of UB’s post-baccalaureate program funded by the state Department of Health and supported by the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY), which also sponsors the scholarship program. The yearlong, intense, academic program provides students from economically or educationally underserved areas with guaranteed acceptance at a New York State medical school provided the student successfully completes the program.
The highly competitive Diversity in Medicine scholarship is available to post-baccalaureate graduates from any of the AMSNY state-funded pipeline programs. It is reserved for students with excellent academic track records who also exhibit a dedication and eagerness to practice in underserved communities.
The consequences of health inequities
For Karole Collier, whose family lives in Brooklyn, the scholarship provides her with the freedom to focus on the underserved. She said that receiving the scholarship was important to her on many levels. “Receiving the scholarship was quite empowering and a confidence boost. It truly intends to elevate and support those who may be overlooked.”
Her commitment to the underserved began in her teens, when her father spent a year in the hospital after a routine hernia operation, which should have taken just a few days. While her father did eventually recover, the experience opened her eyes to how health disparities can affect individuals on a deeply personal level. “Like many others, my father, a fairly healthy and compliant 50-year-old was subjected to limited access, scarce resources and numerous socioeconomic and historical inequities,” she said.
Even while he was still hospitalized, Collier, then an undergraduate, began to conduct research on surgical disparities. She later volunteered at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, where she was exposed to some of the challenges of working with underserved populations. During a summer study abroad program, she traveled to Swaziland, where she studied barriers to treatment for AIDS patients.
Collier participates in many activities that conduct outreach to Buffalo’s underserved populations. She is president of the UB chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the nation’s oldest and largest organization focused on the needs of medical students of color. Its programs are dedicated to ensuring that medical education and services are culturally sensitive and to increasing the number of African-American, Latino and other students of color entering and completing medical school. Collier is also a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Task Force for Student Academic Environment, which is conducting a self-study for the school’s Liaison Committee on Medical Education accreditation.
Choosing a specialty without a financial burden
For Bradley Frate, the scholarship, which is pegged to SUNY medical school tuition, means the freedom to pursue medicine the way he wants to, without the financial pressures that most students endure from substantial student loans.
“I don’t necessarily want to pick the most lucrative specialty or to work in an area already saturated with physicians,” said Frate, a Rochester native. “I don’t want to have to pick a specialty or geographic region to practice based on whether or not I will be able to pay back my loans. I want it to be about where I’m needed most and what best aligns with my interests and aspirations — which is to practice in an underserved area with underserved populations in New York.”
Frate became interested in medicine at the age of 10, when his father was diagnosed with a tumor. Luckily, it turned out to be benign, but Frate stayed in touch with his father’s physician, whom he eventually shadowed and worked with before medical school. After shadowing physicians in Costa Rica, where Frate was studying abroad as an undergraduate, he developed a commitment to the underserved. That commitment stayed with him when he returned to Rochester and Oswego, where he attended college. “I realized the problem is also here,” he said.
Frate is a student leader on the executive boards of several student organizations at the Jacobs School; he helped run an annual melanoma awareness and skin check event for uninsured people in Buffalo and volunteered at the student-run Lighthouse Medical Clinic, which provides free health care and preventive services to the uninsured. He also serves as a mentor and role model through various programs, such as those sponsored by the SNMA.
Through the post-baccalaureate programs it funds, the New York State Department of Health has enabled hundreds of students from New York State’s economically or educationally underserved areas to become doctors. Over the years, more than 480 students have participated in UB’s program: 69 percent of its physician graduates are African-American; 28 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are Native American. Sixty-five percent are female.
“We know that diversity in medicine leads to better health outcomes for patients,” said Jo Wiederhorn, president of AMSNY. “We have a long way to go in diversifying the physician workforce, but this program is making a difference, producing great doctors for New York State’s residents. We are grateful for the support we receive from the state for this program.”