If there was any doubt left that the Obama era didn’t usher in a postracial society, it was erased in the last few weeks by the spectacle that was the Donald Sterling affair. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone at this point that we have not yet reached the promised land of equality and racial blindness of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke 50 years ago. And we have regular reminders of just how far we fall short in this country in many arenas and disciplines—particularly in higher education and at medical schools.
While the overall number of black and Latino physicians is steadily rising, the numbers in leadership remain anemic. Blacks represent only 5.7 percent of deans at American medical schools as of 2013.
As a physician of African-American and Latina ethnicity, I have seen a tepid, though somewhat steady, increase in the number of African-American medical students, but no corollary in the numbers of black medical-school faculty members.
There’s a higher attrition rate for minority faculty, partly due to insufficient mentoring in the profession and little room for such faculty’s advancement to leadership.
Even though medical schools are moving increasingly toward as an educational technique, due to concerns for patient safety, the profession still clings to the old apprenticeship paradigm of “see one, teach one, do one.” The traditional method of teaching is one where trainees learn by following the leader, but the dearth of black leaders in medical schools makes this practice less beneficial to black medical students.
Although having mentors of different backgrounds and races is not an anathema, having mentors who look like you, who have walked your path, and on whom you can pattern yourself professionally is undoubtedly significant.