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Exploring Obstacles to and Opportunities for Professional Success Among Ethnic Minority Medical Students

Odom, Kara L. MD, MPH; Roberts, Laura Morgan PhD; Johnson, Rachel L. MD, PhD; Cooper, Lisa A. MD, MPH

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31802d8f2c
Physician Workforce

Purpose: To explore the barriers and facilitators experienced by ethnic minority medical students in achieving personal and professional success.

Method: In 2002 and 2003, 43 minority medical students participated in one of six two-hour focus groups located in Philadelphia, Pa; Kansas City, Mo; Baltimore, Md; Miami, Fl; New York, NY; and Los Angeles, Calif. Focus groups consisted of an average of seven (range 5–10) individuals. Eighty-eight percent were of black/African descent, 10% were Hispanic, and 2% were Asian/Pacific Islanders. Students discussed their views of personal and professional success, including opportunities and obstacles, and completed a brief demographic survey. Discussions were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and reviewed for thematic content in a three-stage independent review/adjudication process.

Results: All 748 comments were grouped into themes relating to definitions of success (35%) and to perceived facilitators (25%) or inhibitors (40%) of success. Participants strove to achieve professional/academic status, financial security, and quality of life. In so doing, participants identified facilitators of success, including support systems, professional exposure, financial aid, and personal characteristics. Lack of financial and social support, challenges with standardized tests, experiences with racial stereotyping and discrimination, and self-imposed barriers were among inhibitors to success.

Conclusions: The opportunities for and barriers to academic success identified by minority students should be heeded by educators and administrators who develop programs and policies to recruit minority medical students and to ensure their professional development. To enhance the institutional climate for diversity, programs that improve cultural awareness and reduce biases among all students, faculty, staff, and administrators are needed.

Author Information

Dr. Odom is a third-year resident, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, San Francisco, California.

Dr. Morgan Roberts is assistant professor, Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Johnson is a third-year resident, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Cooper is associate professor, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Departments of Epidemiology and Health Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Cooper, Associate Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, and Health Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, 2024 East Monument Street, Suite 2-500, Baltimore, MD 21287; telephone: (410) 614-3659; fax: (410) 614-0588; e-mail: (

© 2007 Association of American Medical Colleges