Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, a historically Black graduate school in Los Angeles, introduced its inaugural class of medical students last summer. Since its inception in 1966, the institution has been one of the leading universities in the country to produce Black doctors alongside other HBCUs.
CDU trained medical students through a partnership with UCLA until it earned accreditation in November 2022. The program received nearly 1,000 applications, with 60 students now enrolled in the four-year program. For the first time, their diplomas will bear the name of CDU.
“That had always been the goal here at the university, to have our own independent medical program,” Deborah Prothrow-Stith, the dean of the College of Medicine, told The Guardian.
Students are trained by becoming active participants in the Los Angeles community by providing rapid HIV testing to locals and routine health screenings to unhoused people.
“We are going to prepare them as best as possible for the uphill battles,” she said. “Knowledge and lived experiences are missing in medicine. We need this class to be very successful, and we need them to have strategies to change mindsets in order to get medicine to do some of the things differently.”
A lack of diversity in the medical field has been an issue HBCUs have been working toward solving. The proportion of Black doctors rose by just 4% between 1900 and 2018, according to an April 2021 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
This lack of representation in health care is tied to health inequities for patients of color – from higher rates of maternal mortality to increased odds of having diabetes.
“I saw how things like poverty and systemic disenfranchisement from an early age can set you either on a good track with your health or on a track where you’re going to have the potential for lifelong struggles,” Laila Cross, a CDU student, told The Guardian.
“If we intervene early, there’s a lot that we can do to foster and grow someone’s potential,” she added. “The more people you can bring to the table and incorporate into the health care team to give a variety of services, the better job you can do of tackling those systemic issues.”
School officials are hoping the program will create more campus jobs and lead to the local community being active participants in medical training and education.
“There’s nothing like training people from the communities that they’re going to serve, because that’s where it gets authentic,” Prothrow-Stith said. “That’s where the level of empathy and the appreciation of humanness comes in. It’s what medicine has needed.”