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Study praises Howard, other minority medical schools

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; A02

Graduates of medical schools at historically black universities such as Howard and Morehouse are the most likely to practice the kind of medicine especially needed under the health-care overhaulthan graduates of elite medical schools at universities such as John Hopkins, Northwestern and Vanderbilt in the Annals of Internal Medicine ranked medical schools based on the communities where their graduates worked and whether those doctors practiced primary care. The Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Howard University College of Medicine in the District and Meharry Medical College in Nashville ranked as the top three, in that order.

By the study's "social mission" criteria, other well-known medical schools ranked far lower. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville was last among the 141 ranked schools and Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago was 139th. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore ranked 122nd.

The United States faces a shortage of up to 100,000 primary-care doctors in 2020, six years after the health-care overhaul fully kicks in with more than 35 million newly insured Americans. Yet elite medical schools place a stronger focus on specialized medicine and research, the study said. They also lag in recruiting underrepresented minorities -- Latinos, Native Americans and African Americans -- who tend to fill the openings created by the shortage.

"It's no surprise," said Eve Higginbotham, a senior vice president and dean of health sciences at Howard University. "We've known for a long time that minority students end up working in underserved areas four to five times more than majority students."

Others called the study, "The Social Mission of Medical Education: Ranking the Schools," another attempt to rank universities based on randomly selected criteria. John E. Prescott, chief academic officer of the American Association of Medical Colleges, said there is a need for more physicians of all types. "If one focuses only on primary-care physicians, we're missing the boat," he said.

The study's chief author, Fitzhugh Mullan, said its intention is not to point fingers.

"It allows schools to examine the outcomes of its graduates . . . and how many minorities have gone through their institutions," Mullan said.

The study tracked 6,000 medical students who graduated between 1999 and 2001 -- the most recent group to have finished college, hospital residencies and obligations, such as working in the National Health Service Corps to pay off student loans, Mullan said.

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