$100 Million Plan Takes Aim at Shortage of
Black Physicians

Marcia Frellick

December 18, 2020

Morehouse School of Medicine, a historically Black medical school in Atlanta, Georgia, and CommonSpirit Health system have teamed up to create a 10-year, $100 million partnership to train more Black physicians.

The collaboration is a response to racial inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have further exposed substantial inequalities in healthcare.

"Of the 21,863 students entering medical school in 2019, only 1626 were Black — and only 619 were Black males," Morehouse President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, said in a press release. "This statistic is alarming for many reasons, not the least of which is the impact on patient care. Studies show that Black patients have better outcomes when treated by Black doctors."

Morehouse and three other historically Black medical schools train most of the nation’s Black physicians among the 155 accredited medical schools, the release noted.

Chicago-based CommonSpirit, a nonprofit Catholic health system with locations in 21 states and 137 hospitals, serves some of the most diverse patient populations and cares for more Medicaid patients than any other health system in the United States, according to the release. CommonSpirit was created in February 2019 through the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health.

The collaboration will help train more Black and other minority physicians by ensuring, at minimum, 300 additional underrepresented physicians complete their residencies each year. The effort includes recruiting a pipeline of students from communities that have shortages of healthcare professionals.

According to the press release, Morehouse and CommonSpirit will create five new regional medical school campuses and graduate medical education programs in at least 10 markets. The entities promise more details in spring of 2021.

"We are laying the foundation for patients to have more access to Black clinicians, and for Black medical students and graduates to gain community-based experience that they need to be successful in their work," said CommonSpirit President and CEO Lloyd H. Dean. "Our initiative also will create a pathway for healthcare organizations across the nation to follow and share our learnings, a vital part of our work."

Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc, from Northwestern University in Chicago, wrote in a viewpoint article published online April 15 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the pattern of inequality in healthcare in this pandemic is "irrefutable."

"Underrepresented minorities are developing COVID-19 infection more frequently and dying disproportionately," he wrote.

He pointed to a recent survey that found the infection rate is three times as high and the death rate is sixfold higher in predominantly Black counties in the US compared with predominantly White counties.

Morehouse and CommonSpirit will contribute $21 million in seed money in the first 2 years to kick off the 10-year initiative, which will need the support of individual donors, industry, and philanthropic organizations.

Morehouse recently received a $40 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services to help establish the National COVID-19 Resiliency Network.

"Now, more than ever, we believe society needs a unique partnership like ours that can help show the way to reducing health disparities in vulnerable communities, and, in turn, make all communities stronger," Rice said in the statement.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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