University Of Illinois (UIC) College Of Medicine

Health Care July 2021 PREMIUM
The Medical School That Produces the Highest Number of Latino Doctors in the U.S.

A survey issued by the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2018-19 revealed that of the top five medical schools with the highest number of Hispanic students, three are based in Puerto Rico, one in the Caribbean, and only one in the continental United States.  That would be the University of Illinois (UIC) College of Medicine, located at four state-wide campuses in Chicago, Peoria, Rockford, and Urbana.

“Our goal,” explains Trevonne Thompson, Associate Dean for Admissions at the UIC College of Medicine and an emergency physician himself, “is to enroll students who will not only succeed academically but also have different perspectives and strengths beyond academics alone, as this benefits the whole college, and the medical profession and patients.”

It’s part of the medical school’s mission, Thompson suggests, because it “has an obligation to create the physician’s workforce to meet the needs of the population in general.” Research indicates that “having a diverse physician’s workforce helps to reduce healthcare disparity. We consider it culturally competent care that helps people from underrepresented minorities, including Latinx, African Americans, and Native Americans,” he says.

In fact, its medical degree or MD-only program attracts 45% White students, 25% Asians, 13% Hispanics, 8% Blacks, and 5% multi-racial.

The undergraduate University of Illinois-Chicago also serves as a designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and because of that connection, its medical college is primed to attract Latinos. Moreover, the hospital is located adjacent to communities such as the Lower West Side, which is 80% Latino. Hence it has name recognition in those neighborhoods.

Medical school has a rigorous, demanding curriculum, and students must be academically prepared to handle it. Hence, its admission requires strong grades and medical board scores, with faculty recommendations. But Thompson says it takes a “holistic” approach toward admissions and “looks at everything the applicant brings to the table including life experience.” Admission is more than a numbers game combining a student’s GPA with their MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) scores.

“We don’t take the view that only a 4.0 GPA student who scored in the 99% percentile on their MCATs is acceptable. We look at the whole applicant, and the trajectory, of what a first-generation applicant from an immigrant background experiences,” Thompson asserts. For example, some first-generation undergraduates struggle during freshman year while adapting to college, and then their grades rise, as they settle in and figure it out.

Developing a pipeline of diverse students is critical to attracting them. Thompson says the first step is “to put your money where your mouth is,” which includes “putting resources to develop a plan, then finding the right people to execute it to meet that goal.” And that entails going to high schools in diverse communities, providing enrichment in those schools, explaining what it takes to become a doctor and what their life will be like, and providing tutoring for STEM classes.

Hence, the UIC College of Medicine is on a mission to attract students of all backgrounds and diversities. To accomplish that goal, it “gets the word out about our unique mission, vision, and values and includes intentional outreach to diverse audiences, including at Hispanic Serving Institutions, the SUMMA (Stanford University Minority Medical Alliance) annual pre-med conference and LMSA (The Latino Medical Student Association), for example,” he says.

The SUMMA Conference, Thompson says, deals with a “whole host of issues regarding underrepresented students, discusses best practices, and understanding the hurdles. It’s a good forum to have a dialogue with students.”

LMSA, a national organization, is dedicated to developing Latino students through education, volunteering, and professional networking opportunities.

In addition, the College of Medicine’s Hispanic Center of Excellence enhances the recruitment and retention of Latino students and faculty members for providing “culturally competent health care,” Thompson suggests. Its mission is to “increase the number of Latino applicants pursuing health careers and enrich their education,” he adds.

Creating a welcoming campus is critical not only for attracting Latino and other minority students, but also for retaining them. “We want to make sure we are supporting them, know they’re welcome when they apply and will be given a fair consideration. We want to not just tolerate them but accept and nurture them,” he asserts.

A sense of belonging and a strong community

UIC College of Medicine also offers an array of comprehensive student services that include academic support and faculty advising.

When Susana Berrios was deciding on which medical school to attend, several of her friends from the University of California-Berkeley told her that UIC College of Medicine was very diverse and trained their students to serve underrepresented populations. That worked for Berrios, a 33-year-old Hispanic who was raised in San Francisco and the Bay area. She is now in her fourth year at UIC College of Medicine, and her specialty is urology.

Based on the Chicago campus, she treats many patients who are lower income and underinsured and that’s the population that most motivates her.

Attending a medical school with a large contingent of Hispanic students has made it easier to navigate her studies and handle clinical residencies.  “It has created a sense of belonging and a strong community. I don’t feel alone,” Berrios explains.

She calls the Hispanic Center of Excellence “a home away from home.  People there have my back and I can lean on them in times of emotional or academic needs.”

Being involved in different neighborhoods in a multi-cultural city like Chicago prepares her to embark on her medical career and her specialty in urology. Urology interests her because it affects a patient through incontinence and having a healthy sex life.  She’s hoping to move on to join a premier urology residency program such as the one offered by Yale University.

“You learn from what you do, and that has helped develop my clinical skills and communication skills,” she says.

Bottom-line, Trevonne Thompson explains, “The keys are having an institutional desire to address healthcare disparities, recognizing that developing a diverse physician workforce is important to eliminating these disparities, and fostering a culturally competent learning environment.” 

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