When I was a child in Washington in the early 1960s, I was present for, if not exactly cognizant of, the reaching of several milestones on the road to equal opportunity. One was Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which I witnessed from the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial with my parents at the age of 3. Another fell under the general heading of school desegregation; my first classroom experience was at a nursery school and kindergarten called Friendship House, which brought together children from varied racial, social and economic backgrounds. Friendship House was a success, and I still have a yellowed Washington Post photograph from the day Lady Bird Johnson came to our classroom for a visit.
Despite this atmosphere of equality, neither of my parents can recall an African-American physician among their acquaintances or on the staff at Children’s Hospital, where my grandmother worked as a receptionist in one of the clinics. In fact, by 1970 only 2 percent of American medical students were members of underrepresented minority groups, compared to 13 percent today. While a significant step forward, that increase is not enough to balance the skewed demographics of American medicine, a situation that has inspired medical schools to try to diversify the physician workforce.
The article that begins on page 16, “An Insider’s View,” by Jennifer Kaylin, describes one of several efforts at Yale to promote diversity in the medical profession. The Summer Medical Education Program, funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has graduated more than 765 participants in the past eight years at Yale and increased the number of students of color bound for careers in medicine. The six-week program is organized around the central idea that by exposing applicants to the culture of academic medicine and offering help in the classroom, it can greatly increase their chances of admission to medical school. The undergraduate students who come to New Haven each summer go on rounds, observe in the OR and ER and strengthen their communication and interviewing skills. The program works, says its co-director, at least in part “by fundamentally [altering] their view of the world.”
Our cover story, “Closing the Gender Gap,” tells of another demographic change, this one affecting the traditionally male-dominated discipline of surgery. Since the mid-1970s, Yale has trained an increasing number of female surgeons and now has one of the highest percentages of women on the surgical faculty. Contributing Editor Cathy Shufro explores the factors behind this change and profiles eight women on the Yale faculty, starting on page 26 and continuing on our website, info.med.yale.edu/ymm.
Finally, a parting note that takes us back to Washington, this time to the National Press Club. There, in early November, Associate Editor John Curtis received a top award from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) for his 2002 article, “Everyone Loves the Yale System. So Why Can’t They All Agree?” It was the second year running that John received an Award of Distinction from the AAMC for his feature writing, and I doubt it will be the last time he distinguishes this magazine or the School of Medicine. If you missed these articles, they, too, may be read on our website by visiting the address above and selecting “Awards.”