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Letters to the Editor

How Can We Ease the Social Isolation of Underrepresented Minority Students?

Sullivan, Louis W., MD; Mittman, Ilana S., PhD, MS

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31822d7d40
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In Reply:

The proposal from Boateng and Thomas to focus on curriculum changes in medical school, emphasizing diversity, professionalism, and cultural competency as strategies to ease the social isolation experienced by some minority medical students, is a positive contribution and should benefit medical education and patient- provider interactions and, at least in the short term, ease the cultural isolation of URM students. Currently, many medical schools have already integrated cultural competency training into their curricula, with some states requiring cultural competency training for medical school, residency, and continuing medical education programs and medical licensure.1

However, by itself, developing curricula focusing on diversity, professionalism, and cultural competency in medicine will not rectify the social isolation experienced by minority students. The issue of social isolation is an important one and affects not only the medical school experiences but the career trajectories of URMs in medicine. The low representation of minorities among medical school faculty contributes to an inadequate body of mentors sharing the cultural backgrounds of minority students. These mentors are important as pathfinders, teachers, and the establishment of a medical school climate that is supportive to all of its students. In order for URMs to acquire an equitable role in the “culture of medicine,” they should achieve parity in accessing health careers and in professional advancement opportunities.

The long-term goal of increasing the number of physicians and other health professionals from all segments of American society should continue to receive our greatest attention and our greatest efforts. For this is the most effective and most comprehensive way to improve access to health services in our society, to effectively engage our citizens in taking responsibility for helping to manage their own health care, and, ultimately, to curtail the inexorable rise in the costs of health care.

Louis W. Sullivan, MD

Chairman, The Sullivan Alliance, and president emeritus, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia.

Ilana S. Mittman, PhD, MS

Research program manager, Center to Reduce Cancer Disparities, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland; [email protected].


1 Betancourt JR, Green AR. Commentary: Linking cultural competence training to improved health outcomes: Perspectives from the field. Acad Med. 2010;85:583–585. Accessed June 28, 2011.
© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges