Dean's Update 2020-07

July 1, 2020

A warm welcome

Last month, we welcomed more than 300 Class of 2024 students to the College of Osteopathic Medicine during orientation week. Despite a virtual start to our time together, there was a genuine sense of excitement in the air, as well as an understanding that starting medical school is a commitment to a professional career that in many ways surpasses any other. As a college community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and colleagues, we are so happy to see that even in the face of a pandemic, we can continue to provide a means for the next generation of future physicians to learn and grow.

With this enthusiasm, together, we are ready to seek out ways to improve and be the best we can be as a medical college. This includes a commitment to the quality of medical education we provide and addressing key issues vital to the success of the college when it comes to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI concerns.

This has been, and always will be, a key area of focus for our college that has been incorporated into a number of strategic initiatives, such as our strategic plan, all in an effort to help successfully move the College of Osteopathic Medicine forward.

Taking notice

This year has made all of us sit up and take notice when it comes to our own health and the health and wellbeing of others, not only from a physical health perspective, but from an overall perspective in our society and the many injustices that exist. Unfortunately, racism and prejudice are clearly evident, be it the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic or other societal injustices imposed upon individuals across our country. As osteopathic physicians, we must always seek to understand these disparities, prejudices and injustices, how they impact those we serve, as well as identify where we, as a college, can take corrective action for the greater good.

While our profession and our college both have successes, we must always acknowledge and address our shortcomings, too. We all agree that the presence of maximal gender and racial diversity in the osteopathic medical education system, and ultimately the osteopathic health profession, will translate into improved health outcomes for those impacted by our efforts in clinical care, outreach and scholarly activity.

Our college has consistently enrolled a student body that has averaged greater than 50% identifying as a woman over the past six years, and more recently, averaged 36% identifying as a student of color. In the past five years, largely due to enhanced recruitment efforts including our pre-college programs, we have increased applicants who are underrepresented in medicine, or URiM, by 34%. This year, we increased URiM matriculants into the College of Osteopathic Medicine by 10% compared to the 2019 admissions cycle.

But we still have much work to do.

There can be no arguing that the composition of the medical profession as a whole does not always reflect the gender or racial composition of the individuals we desire to serve. For example, physicians who self-identified as Black or African American in a 2019 AAMC report only made up 5% of the total U.S. physician workforce.

The osteopathic profession faces additional challenges. According to 2018 American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine data, M.D. schools overall had 2.5 times more applicants than D.O. schools, and thereby, a greater number of underrepresented applicants. Factors weighing into these challenges include geographic vicinity, limited pools of in-state and underrepresented applicants, the high cost of out-of-state tuition, as well as a lack of awareness of the osteopathic profession within certain groups.

Diversifying our college

Despite these challenges, I commit to you that we will continue to look for ways to diversify our student body, but also our faculty and staff.

Recent efforts include decreasing our out-of-state tuition by 25% to enable more underrepresented individuals from other states to consider attending our medical school, knowing they will face a significantly decreased financial burden than in years prior.

Further commitment to our efforts includes welcoming Dr. Marita Gilbert, Ph.D., as our new associate dean for diversity and campus inclusion.

Dr. Gilbert will serve in a number of capacities including being a member of the Dean’s Executive Board, as well as a member of the college’s executive leadership group, having input on all aspects of our strategic planning and operations.

She will also play an integral role in integrating diversity goals and programs throughout the college in the areas of recruitment and curriculum, while also focusing on development opportunities that promote an understanding of how diversity and inclusion can help all of our faculty, staff and students meet mutual goals. Developing and monitoring progress in these areas within our college, across the university and among the D.O. and M.D. schools nationally, will only help enhance this work and further integrate goals related to our Creating COMmunity and Common Ground Framework initiatives, as well as our other DEI efforts.

Given all of this, we will expand and continually assess the structural, climatic and curricular dimensions of these initiatives and with the help of our DEI committee serving as a foundation, diversity, equity and inclusion will be part of our everyday conversations.

Because in the end, identifying, increasing and improving the recruitment of students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds will not only improve our educational, research and outreach programs to better train tomorrow’s physicians, but foster their ability to best serve all those that seek care.