A record number of minorities applying to medical schools is good news for healthcare providers attempting to attract a diverse work force at their hospitals and clinics.
This fall, 45,365 people applied to medical schools, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which released a report last week during its annual meeting in Boston. Of the new appli- cants, 5,060 were either African Americans, Mexican Americans, mainland Puerto Ricans or American Indian/Alaskan natives.
"Medical education has reached a major milestone in its 25-year effort to increase the presence of underrepresented minorities in medicine," said AAMC president Jordan Cohen, M.D.
The news works in favor of the AAMC's "Project 3,000 by 2000," a national campaign to enroll 3,000 underrepresented minority students annually by the year 2000.
Despite a lot of talk about diversity, white men still dominate the physician field, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington. Of 605,000 physicians, roughly 414,000, or 68%, are white men.
There are 132,000 women physicians. African Americans and Hispanics make up less than 9%, or 51,000, physicians. The bureau doesn't have breakdowns for other minority populations.
"Many health networks are trying to incorporate more minorities in all areas. Minorities will make up the majority of Americans by the middle of the next century, and that's not so long in terms of planning for work forces," said Herbert Nickens, M.D., vice president for minority health education at the AAMC.
Hospitals and healthcare systems attempting to get adequate geographic coverage in their markets will need minority physicians.
"It's going to be a tremendous problem for any health system if they don't have physicians who are located in all kinds of areas," Dr. Nickens said.
This fall, enrollment of minority students in medical schools topped 2,000 for the first time in medical education history. Such students account for 12%, or 16,287 members, of the 1994 entering class. Enrollment of minority students jumped 8.1% from 1993.
The AAMC has made efforts to prepare minorities for careers as physicians through educational programs in high schools and colleges. Medical schools attempting to recruit more minorities "easily spend $100,000 a year" on such efforts, Dr. Nickens said.
"It starts as early as middle school and high school," he said. "A medical center will talk to the school system in their area. That kind of conversation doesn't normally go on."