The American University at Antigua is providing incentives for African-American medical school students. (Courtesy photo)
The American University at Antigua is providing incentives for African-American medical school students. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Kwaku Boakye has a goal to improve the overall health conditions in developing countries.

He and his brother, Kwabena Boakye, started a nonprofit called the Gold Coast Medical Foundation in 2006 while they were in medical school.

For Dr. Boakye, medical school meant the American University of Antigua, located on the eastern part of that Caribbean island.

The school has prided itself on diversity, a frequent topic that its president said has always been talked about but rarely addressed.

A NPR report stated that while more black men graduated from college over the past few decades, the number of black men applying to medical school had dropped.

The statistics also revealed a staggering fact: In 1978, 1,410 black men applied to medical school and 542 ended up enrolling. In 2014, both those numbers were down — 1,337 applied and 515 enrolled, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Every other minority group, the AMC said, saw growth in applications.

“Diversity in our admissions process is one of our top goals and the American University of Antigua prides itself on the large group of nationalities on campus,” said Neal S. Simon, the university’s president.

The school boasts one of the most diverse student populations of any medical school, with a minority enrollment rate of more than 65 percent, Simon said.

“With the number of male, African-American doctors dropping dramatically over the last few years, AUA has one of the highest black student populations at 20 percent of the student body,” he said.

Comparatively, just 6.8 percent of the students enrolled at U.S. medical schools are African-American, AMC statistics show.

AUA has an enrollment of 1,138 and a four-year graduation rate of between 65 percent and 70 percent.

Further, AUA’s acceptance rate is better than the overall rate of the 5.8 percent that all American medical schools combined had last year.

As of 2017, AUA has awarded 68 percent, or $13.3 million, of all scholarship money to underrepresented minorities and enrolled students from historically black colleges and universities including Bowie State, Fisk, Hampton, Tuskegee and Prairie View A&M and the University of the District of Columbia.

The school also provides attractive scholarship packages for underrepresented communities, including a $25,000 scholarship for physicians of Indian descent and a $50,000 scholarship from the school’s Physician Diversification Initiative.

“My experience at AUA was great — I enjoyed the diverse community, the friendly staff and, above all, the weather,” said Dr. Boakye, who noted that his decision to attend AUA was based on diversity.

“It was one of the few medical schools that was dedicated in providing a high-quality education for its students and, at the same time, granting opportunities to underrepresented minorities,” said the doctor, who completed his residency in family medicine at The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Because schools historically have relied on certain criteria in selecting students, African-Americans and other minorities have typically been frozen out, Simon said.

“There’s no evidence at all that such criteria determines whether someone will be a good doctor,” he said. “The people who decide on that criteria are people who did well using it, but it’s self-perpetuating and black males in particular are forced to recognize that the admission process may have a bias toward them.”

At AUA, preclinical training has been built into the Basic Sciences curriculum. Most of this training occurs on campus, allowing students easy access to labs and medical simulations while they attend classes.

This curriculum not only results in better medical students, it leads to better physicians, Simon said.

Courses at the school employ a variety of teaching methods other than large group didactics, such as small group sessions, clinical case discussions, simulations, and hands-on laboratory experience.

Students are also placed in hospital settings, allowing them to interact with patients.

Beginning in their first semester, students learn about the foundations of medicine, medical cell biology, biochemistry & genetics, and human structure and function.

Their education is built from there and moves on to more advanced courses, such as pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and more.

Most courses include lab components and small breakout sessions.

The preclinical component takes place at Mount St. John’s Medical Centre and the on-campus simulation lab, which contains the latest medical simulators.

AUA also employs a diverse staff of instructors with minorities making up more than half of faculty members.

The school’s push for diversity has been a response to a national physician shortage, which experts project to be up to 105,000 doctors by 2030.

Simon noted that increasing enrollment among black men could help solve persistent public health issues.

“Not having diversity impacts the quality of a medical education for everyone,” he said. “If you don’t have the education that includes diversity, you won’t be as good a doctor.

“Studies have shown that patients are more comfortable and maybe more forthcoming with people of the same cultural, ethnic or social background and part of medicine is getting information from the patients,” Simon said. “Having black and other minority doctors impacts all aspects of medicine.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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