The United States currently faces a critical shortage of primary care physicians, and many experts predict the shortage will grow worse in coming years. In particular, health care experts say the nation needs more minority physicians because although African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans currently make up nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population, just 7 percent of U.S. physicians come from one of these ethnic groups.
An AMA-inspired outreach program dubbed "Doctors Back to School" aims to improve that situation. The AAFP has embraced the program, and, in cooperation with the AMA, has adapted the materials for use by family physicians.
Put simply, the initiative uses volunteers to introduce middle- and high-school-age minority students to family medicine and encourage them to consider family medicine as a career.
The program relies on physician mentors such as Gary LeRoy, M.D., of Dayton, Ohio, to deliver that message. LeRoy chairs the AAFP's Commission on Education and is the associate dean of admissions at Wright State University in Dayton. He has firsthand knowledge about the shortage of minority medical school applicants at his institution.
"We're seeing a diminishing number of applicants and especially of students who traditionally are underrepresented in medicine," said LeRoy.
- The AAFP has tailored the AMA's "Doctors Back to School" program for family physicians.
- The program uses volunteer physician mentors to educate middle-school and high-school students about family medicine and to encourage them to consider family medicine as a career.
- The Academy has a bevy of program-related resources on its website to help family physicians every step of the way.
The surge in the number of medical schools that have opened nationwide has created an "institutional dilution of a limited group of (minority) applicants," said LeRoy. Part of the solution, he noted, is to increase the number of minority students who apply to and graduate from medical schools.
According to LeRoy, reaching out to potential minority medical students is important because physician mentoring raises the level of awareness among minority teens about the career possibilities available to them. "They can't embrace an opportunity if they're not aware that opportunity exists," said LeRoy.
He plans to fold the AAFP's new program resources into the personal outreach activities he's been conducting with students for years. "I already do this in a nonofficial sense," said LeRoy. "I like talking to young people because it's very interesting to see the limited universe some groups of students live in; all they know is what they see and what's around them."
Minority students often are not aware of what it takes to become a doctor, and they seldom realize that they even have the capability to pursue the path to a medical career, said LeRoy.
AAFP Offers Resources
The AAFP is offering family physicians an entire online toolkit of resources(13 page PDF) to encourage them to participate in the Doctors Back to School program and to help them along the way.
For example, among the available resources are
- introductory talking points for use with school and community leaders;
- questions and answers explaining the purpose of the program;
- checklists and presentation timelines;
- tips on how to create an inspiring and interactive presentation tailored to middle-school students and high-school students; and
- a financial resources list that includes information on scholarships, student loans, loan repayment programs, and tips on how to save for college.
The AAFP encourages participating physicians to complete a presenter evaluation form and share their experiences -- along with photographs of their interactions with students -- with the AAFP. A sample photo release form for minors(1 page DOC) is available online.
Questions about the program -- as well as completed evaluation forms and event photos -- can be emailed to AAFP Student Interest Strategist Ashley Bentley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change a Life
LeRoy knows from personal experience that sometimes, something very subtle can open a young person's eyes.
"The thing that first inspired me to do medicine -- as goofy as this will sound -- was going with my aunt, when I was about 10 years old, to a doctor's office one evening to clean the doctor's office after hours," said LeRoy. "That was the first time that I became aware of what doctors do.
"Until that experience, it didn't even dawn on me that I could become a doctor," he said.
Should family physicians become active in this program?
You bet, said LeRoy. Young people have a lot going on their lives and they're easily distracted by their surroundings, he said. "Sometimes it takes somebody coming alongside a young person and saying, 'You can do what I do -- you can do even more than I'm doing.
"Giving an hour of your time can be a life-changing experience for a young person," LeRoy added. He called the program a "win-win" all around -- for mentors, mentees and for society as a whole.
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