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Med school diversity program celebrates 25th anniversary

Photo from University at Buffalo website

New York’s first program designed to diversify the state’s physician workforce is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The program, run by Associated Medical Schools of New York, gives students from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged communities a shot at attending medical school.

Associated Medical Schools of New York President and CEO Jo Wiederhorn explained, “the intent is to take students who would otherwise not have been accepted at medical school and provide them with some academic enrichment and some personal skills like time management, and give them these skills so they can be successful when they enter medical school.”

Students are required to complete a yearlong “boot camp” program at the University at Buffalo. Once they’ve completed the program, students are guaranteed acceptance into medical school and given an individualized curriculum. The program also provides free tuition and a living allowance.

About 25 students are taken in each year and, so far, more than 400 students have successfully graduated. Wiederhorn said they are individuals who would have never thought medical school was an option – an assumption shared by many high school and college guidance counselors. Wiederhorn said the counselors often have a very set idea of what medical students look like. It’s an assumptions that leave some communities underrepresented in the medical field.

“We asked the guidance counselors whether or not they would advise this student with this kind of a background and GPA to go to medical school,” said Wiederhorn, recalling a meeting with counselors several years ago. “There wasn’t one who said they would suggest that any one of these students would go to medical school. Every single one of them were already in medical school.”

Nearly 90 percent of the program’s participants go on to graduate, and their individual backgrounds may serve to benefit diverse communities.

“There have been many studies that diversity improves healthcare because people are much more willing to go to a physician from the same cultural or ethnic background as they are,” explained Wiederhorn. “They feel that the physician would understand them better.”