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Scholarship aims to boost number of minorities in medicine

6:24 PM, Dec 20, 2009   |    comments
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"With graduation, you're looking at over $100,000 in debt," Floyd said.

That's why the fourth-year pharmacy student looks for help wherever she can. Two years ago, she found that help in a scholarship from Kaiser Permanente. That scholarship focuses on increasing diversity in the medical field.

"Folks in the ethnic minority groups really feel that's beyond their reach. They think, 'How am I going to become a doctor? How am I going to become a nurse?'" Kaiser's Diversity Development Department Director Steve DelCastillo said.

According to a 2008 study by the American Medical Association, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans compose 8.52 percent of doctors. About 12 percent of doctors are Asian. Other studies have shown the trend of lower numbers of minorities continuing in other medical fields, stating that Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans account for 7 percent of registered nurses and 5 percent of dentists. In the state of Colorado, the Association of Medical Colleges estimates there are as little as 50 black doctors.

"Those statistics are correct. But, quite frankly, they're shocking. And they're disappointing," DelCastillo said.

He says that diversity matters in medical workers because it helps to address disparities in medical care for groups that may be prone to different illnesses, based on their ethnicities, and who may have to contend with language barriers.

"You have a higher rate of diabetes in the African-American community... You have higher rates of cervical cancer in the Vietnamese female population," DelCastillo said.

He adds that having a diverse array of doctors, nurses and other medical staff members to match the region's actual ethnic populations may help encourage some to seek out medical care more often.

"To have the patients understand and perceive, 'Gee. There's someone who looks like me and perhaps talks like me. And I feel comfortable.' That's an issue of the patient feeling comfortable and therefore otherwise sharing information that he or she otherwise might not," DelCastillo said.

Corinne Floyd, a two-time Kaiser Diversity scholarship recipient who is black and German, has seen it happen.

"It doesn't change the way you treat people in terms of their clinical course. But I think there's maybe a sense of comfort they get," she said. "I have had patients who are young African American women. And they feel comfortable in confiding with me sometimes."

DelCastillo hopes that getting all minority groups to take care of themselves could be the first step in fulfilling a need that he hopes doesn't exist for long.

"(By getting more minorities into the medical field) we will have eliminated health disparities in our country," he said. "That's the goal."

Kaiser Permanente offers 17 diversity scholarships. Each is worth about $2,400. The scholarships are available to students from high school to college graduate school. Ethnicity isn't the only type of diversity the company recognizes.

Qualifying scholarship applicants can fall into seven categories including: people with disabilities, people of different sexual orientations and veterans who have served in our armed forces.

Qualified applicants will have faced some sort of obstacle to pursuing their medical career. The award is accompanied by moral support from Kaiser medical staff members. The application deadline is Jan. 4. For more information, click here:

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