Senator Kaine Reintroduces Bill to Support Medical Schools at HBCUs

By Angela Jones

America’s underrepresented populations have suffered more during the Coronavirus pandemic than any other group in the country and perhaps the world. One of the reasons that poor and minority populations have experienced worse outcomes than other groups during the most recent pandemic is because they have less access to adequate and affordable medical care. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine wants to level the playing field when it comes to access to medical facilities and educating underserved populations to become physicians. He has reintroduced the Expanding Medical Education Act to ensure that students from rural areas in the U.S., underserved students, and students of color have a clear pathway to becoming physicians.

The Expanding Medical Education Act would provide grants to support the establishment and expansion of medical schools in underserved areas across the country and at Minority Serving institutions (MSIs). Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) could also benefit from the bill that would support recruitment, enrollment, and retention of underrepresented students at medical schools.

With a large number of people of color still afraid to get a COVID-19 shot, hospitals, and medical schools that increase the number of doctors who look like them would build those bridges of trust that are needed to ensure the health and safety of the entire U.S. population. The pandemic has exposed holes in the U.S. healthcare system when it comes to caring for underserved populations. More physicians from a variety of backgrounds are needed to improve a healthcare system that is experiencing a shortage of healthcare professionals. Currently, there are only four medical schools at HBCUs including Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine. 

Senator Kaine wants to include the Expanding Medical Education Act, cosponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), in the Build Back Better bill. “Even before the pandemic, underserved, rural, and minority communities faced too many barriers in accessing health care,” said Senator Kaine. “This has only been exacerbated by nationwide physician shortages. One way we can address this issue is by diversifying and expanding our physician pipeline, as medical students of color and those from rural areas are more likely to practice in the communities they’re from. I’m proud to re-introduce this important legislation to help us get one step closer to ensuring communities across Virginia and the nation have access to the medical professionals they need.”

The five HBCUs located in the state of Virginia could potentially benefit from the Expanding Medical Education Act including, Norfolk State University, Hampton University, Virginia Union University, Virginia State University, and the Virginia University of Lynchburg. Virginia residents already benefit from having the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute in their backyard to support the large number of people of color suffering from cancer in Virginia. If the university were to add a medical school, it would be a gamechanger for African Americans in Hampton Roads and for students from across the country who would like to attend a medical school at an HBCU.

In 1966, the Charles Drew Postgraduate Medical School was established to improve access to healthcare in South Los Angeles following the Watts Riots. In 2019, The HBCU Advocate started the HBCU Health Initiative to support HBCUs that would like to start medical schools or hospitals. Several HBCUs are considering the possibility of adding medical schools and hospitals. The Expanding Medical Education Act would support those efforts. “In my experience with recruiting and retaining physicians, they are much more likely to have an affinity for practicing in areas closer to their home or where they received their medical school education,” said Denise Williams, an experienced hospital administrator and consultant for the HBCU Advocate Health Initiative. “… it is quite difficult to attract new physicians to rural or inner-city locations if they are from more suburban and/or affluent locations. This plan could also address longstanding mistrust of the medical establishment in some communities. Data suggest that confidence in a physician improves if patients can identify with the provider’s ethnicity.”

Morgan State University announced in 2020 that it would explore creating a College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Given the mission of HBCUs and our charge to expand educational opportunities to those who have traditionally been excluded, we have an obligation to explore all pathways to degree attainment and cultivate a workforce that is as competent as it is diverse. Opening medical schools on the campuses of HBCUs is a viable means of increasing the diversity of physicians while providing a valuable service to underrepresented communities,” said David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State University. “I applaud the efforts of Sen. Tim Kaine to distribute resources from the Expanding Medical Education Act to HBCUs, so that we, too, may create more beneficial futures for our students, communities, and regions through the availability of medical schools, as we are attempting to do at Morgan with a new school of osteopathic medicine.”