Morehouse School of Medicine, a historically Black medical school, and CommonSpirit Health, a non-profit Catholic health system, announced the establishment of seven medical education programs at CommonSpirit’s hospitals around the country.
The partnership, called More in Common, is a projected $100-million initiative over 10 years pushing to reduce inequities in healthcare for underserved communities and communities of color and to diversify physicians treating those communities.
Though inequities in healthcare — not only racial, but socioeconomic and geographical — are long-standing, inequities in the response to COVID-19 have made these disparities near impossible to ignore. And institutions are taking notice.
“The global health crisis that we are currently enduring has made greater the disparity and issues of access, as we saw more sick people in need and a decreased capacity of the healthcare workforce,” said Erica Sutton, MD, associate dean of academic programs and affiliations and for undergraduate medical education at Morehouse School of Medicine. “That alone brought this to the level of urgent.”
A number of studies have shown that doctors of color go on to work within underserved communities more often than their white counterparts, and that patients of color seeking care benefit substantially from seeing a doctor of their race and who shares their life experiences, including receiving preventive care more often, and reporting better patient experiences overall.
However, Black individuals still only account for 5% of physicians nationwide, whereas they are 13% of the U.S. population. With the partnership, Morehouse School of Medicine intends to double its undergraduate enrollment.
Morehouse’s medical school, founded in 1975, ranked among the top three U.S. medical schools in graduating the most Black medical students from 2009-2019, according to the American Association for Medical Colleges. The other top two were historically Black college and university (HBCU) medical schools as well.
The More in Common program is notable for support early in the career of doctors of color, said Sabrina Assoumou, MD, MPH, who is the first to hold Boston University School of Medicine’s endowed professorship named for Louis W. Sullivan, a long-time president of Morehouse School of Medicine.
“This work takes time and patience and investment,” she told MedPage Today. “I think this is the boldest program that I’ve ever seen so far, in terms of not saying ‘okay, we need doctors,’ but ‘we need to start with undergrads.'”
After the initial announcement of the collaboration in December 2020, the school and health system finalized plans over the past year and are now rolling out three undergraduate and four graduate programs.
CommonSpirit Health is one of the biggest Medicaid healthcare providers and serves diverse communities in over 21 states. There are plans to expand the program in five locations that could graduate as many as 300 residents a year once the program reaches maturity.
Four medical students and one physician assistant student from Morehouse have already started emergency medicine and neurology clinical rotations through the program at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
After speaking with one of those students finishing a neurology rotation, Gary Greensweig, MD, system senior vice president and chief physician executive of physician enterprise at CommonSpirit Health described “radiant good vibrations coming from Chattanooga the entire time.”
The next round of students will start at CommonSpirit hospitals in Lexington, Kentucky, and Seattle in the spring of 2022. Morehouse will also take over “academic sponsorship” of a program at California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles.
More in Common also has plans to start entirely new graduate medical programs at three California locations: Bakersfield, Santa Cruz, and Ventura County. It is eventually aiming for 10 graduate medical education programs.
An increase of clinical sites for students to train at will make it possible to expand the next generation of physicians of color, according to Greensweig. “As long as you have a big enough classroom, you can train as many people in the basic sciences as you have, but the real challenge is Where do they go for their clinical training?” he said. “Our goal is to increase the number of training slots, which will help Morehouse grow their class size.”
Assoumou described the impact on patients of seeing a doctor that shares their lived experience. One patient of hers, for example, got the COVID vaccine after he saw Assoumou talk about vaccination on TV, and because a Black woman, Kizzmekia Corbett, led one of the NIH teams that developed the Moderna vaccine.
After a history of experiencing distress in the healthcare system, she said, “they meet me on the first day and they’re like, ‘Wow, she looks like me.’ And the advice that she’s giving me, maybe I’ll listen to a little bit more because she knows how to package it.”