Minority Health Professions Foundation
100 Edgewood Avenue, Suite 1020
Atlanta, GA 30303
(678) 904-4217
www.minorityhealth.org

One of the things we’re preparing for is the Annual Symposium on Career Opportunities in Biomedical Sciences. We bring together approximately 1,000 high school and university students to highlight the kinds of health professions and biomedical careers they could pursue. Our aim is to encourage and motivate participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and health professions and thereby increase their presence in the physician and scientific workforce.

The changing ethnic/racial climate in the United States demands an increase in the number and diversification of biomedical scientists and health professionals. However, African Americans and other underrepresented minorities (URMs) continue to be significantly underrepresented among the Nation’s scientists and health professionals.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census Report, the U.S. population consisted of approximately 12.3% blacks, 0.9% American Indian/Alaska Natives, 3.6% Asians, 12.5% Hispanic/Latino and 75.1% whites. URMs remain well below the national average with regard to education, employment and health status. While today these minorities make up more than 25% of the U.S. population, historically they continue to be underrepresented in the medical and research professions. Among the nation’s scientists, blacks represent 2.3%, Hispanics 2.8% and American Indian/ Alaskan Natives 0.3%. There have been modest increases of underrepresented minority physicians over the past 20 years. In 2000, the U.S. physician workforce was comprised of 5.1% Hispanics, 4.4% African Americans and 0.2% American Indians.

The symposium features people in health and science fields who can talk to students about what they do and serve as live role models. We’re expecting over 1,000 students from across the country who will attend 16 workshops led by caring professionals from similar backgrounds who role model the lifestyle, behavior and determination that it takes to become a scientist or health professional.

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How does Minority Health Professions Foundation connect with students on a national level?

We work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities from all over the country to recruit students. We recruit American Indian and Hispanic students from national organizations similar to the MHPF that focus on the specific interests of these groups, i.e., the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the Hispanic Serving Health Professions Schools. These students include high school students in the 11th and 12th grades and college students.

We get a lot of requests for not only for steering students to majority schools but also to recruit minority faculty. For example, we’ll contact the HBCUs to post jobs at majority schools when we hear of them.

Do you also work with community colleges to connect with students who are studying in one of the allied health fields?

One of the things we will probably do more of this year is have direct contact with community colleges for the symposium. More students are going to community colleges as an introduction to four-year colleges.

We are cooperating with the U.S. Agency for International Development to support faculty to attend training for tuberculosis prevention and elimination. Through this program, we provide support for MHPF faculty to receive training and to serve on international assessments teams with organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO). This training is held in Tanzania and Vietnam.

Does the foundation help provide any other training programs for students or professionals?

Yes. One way the MHPF is currently supporting professional development of students is through an internship program at Florida A&M University where the emphasis is on the development of research skills related to assessing and analyzing disease and health problems that primarily affect disadvantaged populations. This includes the human affects associated with environmental pollution, environmental and occupational health concerns, and health promotion and disease prevention through community involvement and education. Through the internship process, students learn about public health data sources, such as medical data, environmental data and survey data.

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Part of the foundation’s mission is to support research. What is MHPF doing now in terms of research?

The Foundation is participating in a Cooperative Agreement with the CDC/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry where research projects in the MHPF member institutions are being undertaken to understand the link between exposure to several hazardous substances and their human health effects. Results will reduce the uncertainties of public health assessments and will provide the most effective measures to prevent or mitigate the adverse human health effects of these toxic substances. Lead exposure, for example, remains a significant health threat to the nation’s population, especially children. Yet it is not clear at what level of exposure this damaging effect occurs. The relationship between lead exposure and elevated blood pressure needs also to be clarified. Human studies at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science and Morehouse School of Medicine as well as animal and cellular studies at the Colleges of Pharmacy of Texas Southern and Florida A&M Universities are being conducted to answer these uncertainties about lead toxicity.

An environmental multimedia study of lead, cadmium, zinc and manganese is being conducted at Xavier University College of Pharmacy. The aim of this study is to develop a comprehensive understanding of routes of exposure of toxic substances from an urban environment and from environmental media of soils, water, sediments and aquatic organisms to people. Analysis of these different environmental media in various areas of New Orleans revealed that these hazardous substances co-exist and are higher in the inner city regions. These findings have been shared with the scientific community through many peer-reviewed publications.

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Health care has been changing a great deal in the last few years. How has this affected the evolution of the MHPF’s work?

We are about to develop a five-year strategic plan based on what we see in health care today and what the role of an organization like the MHPF should be. The health profession’s workforce is aging. We’ve got to ensure that a younger generation of minorities becomes a part of the workforce of the future.

We need to encourage, motivate and train young people to be a part of the health professions. People now who are in those professions are retiring, so we’ve got to get a new group of people in those fields.

Part of our challenge is getting the word out to young people. A lot of the kids just don’t know about the opportunities. We have a charge to make known what you can do. Students often say to us, “Oh, we never knew that these fields existed.”

At the symposium, we conduct over 16 workshops on different professions. In addition, one of the things we’re going to do with the Web site is highlight health professions. All of the kids who have ever attended a symposium can go to the Web site and access this information.

What do you see as Minority Health Professions Foundation’s primary task for the future?

I see our focus being how we can impact the health profession’s workforce. Even now we’re seeing that minorities are not appropriately represented. I think its been shown that people of the same ethnic group can better serve and identify with that group’s needs. It’s important that we increase the numbers of minorities who provide health care services so that minority populations are better served

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