Three of HHS’ largest workforce grants in 2019 aim to boost diversity in healthcare by first cultivating a more diverse student body.
Of those three, a grant for loans to disadvantaged allopathic medical students surged 243% in value this year over 2018, awarding $18.6 million to seven university grantees in 2019.
The Health Resources and Services Administration website explains that these long-term, low-interest loans are encouraged “to deliver healthcare in communities where people lack access to basic healthcare needs.” The University of California at Riverside received the largest portion of the 2019 grant at $6.6 million.
“Our mission is to serve the Southern California population where we are medically underserved and socio-economically disadvantaged,” said Dr. Emma Simmons, senior associate dean of student affairs at UC Riverside. “The area has some of the worst health outcomes in the state.”
The loans can reach first-generation immigrants and people from rural, economically disadvantaged or poorly served communities, Simmons explained. In this year’s class of 293 medical students at UC Riverside, 200 qualify for the loans made possible by the grant.
“If we can get more people who are more disadvantaged and from underrepresented backgrounds, they are likely to turn around and serve those same people,” Simmons said.
Reflecting the diversity of the surrounding community within its health workforce is a necessity, according to Tommye Austin, chief nursing executive at University Health System. Austin was named one of Modern Healthcare’s Minority Executives to Watch list in 2018 and is a first-generation college graduate. She likely would have qualified for this type of loan during her own medical training had one been available.
Austin explained that the University of Texas, which has ties to University Health System, has an inclusion and diversity office that focuses on obtaining and retaining people who reflect that community. Representation of every kind of person in any community is only achievable when everyone has an opportunity to gain access to medical training, such as the loans provide, she said.
But a diverse medical student body faces complications in transitioning to a diverse health workforce. Peter Stokes, a managing director of education business at consultancy Huron, said grants are effective at getting students into programs, but personal and environmental factors might hinder their success.
“Grants often don’t exist for the entirety of one’s enrollment in a program,” Stokes said. “Certain grants might help students get in, but the funding isn’t there to enable them to persist and complete the program.”
And even if they do complete a program, opportunities must exist for graduates to join the local workforce if they are going to impact healthcare in the community.
“I’d like to see schools being a little more strategic in giving students incentives to stay in the community that they’re receiving grants for,” Austin said.