Amid laughter, tears, and sighs of relief, they promised that "with sincerity and dedication, I will pass my life and practice my art. I shall use my knowledge for the benefit of the sick. . ."
Last week, 114 Howard University College of Medicine students recited the Hippocratic oath to signify their initiation into one of the world's oldest professions. The Class of '81 also holds the distinction of being the first class in the medical school's 113-year history to have 100 percent of its members pass Part 2 of the national medical board exams.
The national average pass rate for this section of the test is 97 to 98 percent. This year's graduating class at George Washington University medical school also had a 100 percent pass rate -- not its first -- and though Georgetown's scores are not all in, one dean expects the rate to be the customary 98 or 99 percent.
In 1976, 93 percent of Howard's fourth-year med students passed Part 2 of the national boards, but that rate has improved over the years.
Part is usually taken by fourth-year medical students prior to their graduation. It tests their knowledge in major clinical medicine fields like surgery and psychiatry. Part I of the exam, which test knowledge of the basic sciences, is taken by second-year medical students and Part 3 is given to medical school graduates after they have finished their first year of residency training in a hospital.
Dr. Russell L. Miller, dean of the college, insists the examinations are only one measure of students and the cirriculum. Both Miller and Dr. Marion Mann, the previous dean of the medical college, say that many steps were taken during the 1970s to improve academics at Howard. In 1977, for example, it became mandatory for sophomores to pass Part 1 of the boards to go to their third year, and with the class of 1980, students were required to pass Part 2 to graduate. "We require more and more of our students each year," Miller says.
Dr. Edward Lane Ashmore, 31, a former naval officer and now a jubilant '81 graduate, says he's seen many changes in the school. For instance, he says, all seniors, must take an elective that will get them working on a hospital ward, to ensure that they get adequate experiece working directly with patients.
Despite improvements, Miller laments that "the pool of qualified students remains too small." In an attempt to prepare more students earlier to enter the medical sciences, Howard medical students conduct a "school after school" program for 50 District high school students.
"We're not satisfied with the attrition rate (of black medical students) at this institution," said Dr. Nicolette Lee Ballou, president of the senior class. According to American Medical Association statistics, she said, only 2 percent of U.S. doctors are black.
"We can't afford to be passive," Ballou told colleagues in her commencement address, asking them to protest Reagan budget cuts that will reduce student aid programs. She also asked her classmates to actively support efforts to train and recruit black medical students.
Dr. Vincent J. Roux, associate dean of medical affairs at Howard, said roughly 85 percent of the approximately 500 students enrolled in the medical college are black, and that about 15 percent of all entering freshmen med students fail to graduate. He had no specific figures for the attrition rate of black students.
Miller fears that pending Reagan administration proposals could cut 70 to 80 percent of guaranteed federal student loans, as well as government-funded scholarships. This could be devasting to students planning to attend Howard since the school takes a large number of low and moderate income students, he says. But with annual tuition at $3,000 next year, says Miller, Howard is "still the best buy in the country for private medical school. . . It's the high cost of living in Washington, D.C., that deters students."