November 5, 2018

How Weill Cornell Medicine Plans to Tackle Diversity With New $2.7 Million Dollar Grant

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Weill Cornell Medicine plans to use $2.7 million in funding to address the shortage of underrepresented minorities in the healthcare professions.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 1,410 African-American men applied to medical schools in 1978. Forty years later, that number has dropped to 1,337.

Earlier this summer, Weill received a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration in order to establish a Diversity Center of Excellence. The Center of Excellence, will function under the Cornell Center of Health Equity, which is a research initiative that analyzes health disparities and solutions to various stigmatized conditions. The Diversity Center is specifically meant to impact each step in the path to becoming a physician, from underrepresented pre-medical undergraduates to medical students and faculty members in academic medicine.

Mentorship will serve a fundamental role in the Center’s diversity programs. “People’s need for a mentor never goes away. Everyone needs a mentor,” said Dr. Susana Morales, an internist at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-principal investigator of the grant.

Through the new Diversity Center of Excellence, she hopes to establish an interdisciplinary “mentoring cascade” that encompasses underrepresented minorities throughout faculty, residents, and medical students engaged in mutual learning. Morales is confident that this group mentorship mechanism will provide mentees with valuable information and advice that can be crucial in achieving success within such a demanding career field.

Weill Cornell Medicine will also partner with Cornell,  as well as several New York City colleges such as Fordham and Hunter, in order to enhance support and training for minority undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in medicine.

Plans to host a pre-medical conference at the New York City campus that Cornell undergraduates will be invited to are also in the works, Morales said. Additionally, the funding will be used to launch a new health equity minor at Cornell for students interested in analyzing the barriers to health care faced by various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

When asked what she hopes will come out of the new Diversity Center of Excellence, Morales presents her vision in terms of two main objectives: increasing the number of underrepresented minority medical school applicants, and improving academic promotions for minority faculty members in academic medicine.

“The ascent up the ladder in terms of academic promotion is slower [for minorities] so there are much fewer women and minorities in the upper levels of academia in leadership positions,” Morales said. As a result, she and the rest of the faculty at Weill are committed to increasing diversity in all areas of the medical track, from undergraduate students to seasoned doctors.

Though programs and initiatives such as the center of excellence have made significant progress, Morales emphasizes that the long-term goal of the project is to move towards eliminating the social inequities reflected in healthcare. A crucial reason behind Weill being awarded the grant is the project’s focus on increasing “community-based primary care training and cultural competence and health disparities training” in the workplace.

However, in order to attack health inequity, we must first undertake progress in our country’s social policies, according to Morales.
“This isn’t something that happens overnight, but it’s our responsibility to think more broadly than just healthcare delivery,” she said. “We must think about social equity and advocating for social change.”