To bring more Black men into healthcare, advocates turn to sports

Developing a strong athletics-to-medicine pipeline could encourage more Black men to become healthcare providers, supporters of the strategy say, according to the nonprofit publication Undark

Black players are overrepresented in college sports, making up 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2018. In the same year, they accounted for more than half of football and basketball teams at the 65 U.S. colleges in the top five athletic conferences. The opposite is true for medicine, where just 5 percent of physicians identified as Black or African American in 2018, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Years of effort to boost diversity at medical schools have made progress among other demographics, but barely any progress has been made for Black men. 

"We are in a crisis point, nationally," said Reginald Miller, dean for research operations and infrastructure at New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that the health of communities of color are directly proportional to the number of practitioners available to see."

High-performing athletes require many of the same skills medical providers need — focus, commitment to excellence, time management, problem-solving skills, and the ability to take constructive criticism and perform under pressure.

Thousands of Black men are currently on athletic scholarships at U.S. colleges. Even if only a small number chose medical careers, it would better reflect the proportion of Black men in the general population, advocates say.

Last year, the AAMC and National Medical Association partnered to address structural barriers for Black men. 

"We need to look at this with a unique lens," said Norma Poll-Hunter, PhD, senior director of workforce diversity at the AAMC, adding that there is no single solution.

Brian Hainline, MD, CMO for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said he and Dr. Poll-Hunter are talking with several universities about establishing a pilot program to support Black athletes interested in medical careers.

In 2018, Mr. Miller with Mt. Sinai founded the Scholar-Athletes with Academic Goals organization, and is now working with New York City-based Pace University to create a program to support Black college athletes interested in medical school, set to launch next year. The school's science departments will offer flexibility to accommodate sport commitments, while coaches at the school — previously less likely to select Black or Latino high school athletes interested in medicine because of anticipated scheduling conflicts — will be directed to actively recruit such students.

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