Black women WSU med school grads to be honored Friday, amid improved diversity

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This Friday, an event highlighting the first black woman to graduate from Wayne State Medical School gives us an opportunity to examine the challenge the largest med school in the state once faced: in 2014, it admitted only one black student and two Hispanic students through regular admissions.

The Dr. Helen Marjorie Peebles-Meyers Symposium on African-American Women’s Health will take place between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday.

The event will cover topics such as aging gracefully and health disparities in African-American women, and also provide continuing medical education to health professionals.

The event also seeks to highlight the accomplishments of black female alumni of WSU’s med school.
It’s free for the public, but health professionals must pay a fee.  Highlighting black female professionals is also a significant goal of the event. 

Click here to find out how much the symposium would cost you and learn details about how to register or donate.

“Students going to Detroit Public Schools never set foot in the medical school and they come in in elementary or junior high school and say they want to be a doctor.  By the time they finish undergraduate school they’ve never set foot in the medical school,” said Anita Moncrease MD, MPH and co-director of the Symposium.

Dr. Moncrease is hoping that many members of the public, especially the young will attend the event.

“It’s something about just putting your foot in school and seeing people who look like you going to school and having fun,” she said. “That inspires the young people. This is your school, this is not the medical school’s school. You pay the taxes.”

WSU’s Medical School was sanctioned by its accrediting body in 2015 after diversity numbers dipped to dismal lows.

From the late 1970’s through about 2006, the school led the nation in accepting and matriculating underrepresented minorities.

WSU only admitted one black student and two Hispanics through regular admission by 2014, which not only caught the attention of alumni and med school officials, but the school’s accrediting body as well.

“We let things get so bad that an outside influence had to come in and say look, Wayne State you need to do a better job or you’re going on probation,” Moncrease said.

Herbert Smitherman, MD, MPH Vice Dean of Diversity and Community Affairs at Wayne State’s School of Medicine says he and his team have been working on improving diversity numbers at the university “24-7,” over the past two and a half years, after being recruited by university administrative officials to help ameliorate the figures. 

Dr. Smitherman blames the decline in underrepresented minorities between 2006 and 2014 to funding cuts, which trickled down to slashing diversity and inclusion programs dramatically.

“There were significant cuts in resources for diversity outreach recruitment retention,” Dr. Smitherman said. “We used to do that. It wasn’t like rocket science. We had lost our way. Our mission didn’t even have diversity in it any longer.”

The 2014 diversity figures increased by 2015, but by 2016 the school had seen dramatic gains.

Native Americans — 4
Black — 31
Hispanic — 26
Total Class — 286

Native Americans — 5
Black — 33
Hispanic — 25
Total Class — 290

If you’re interested in additional information about the Symposium, please click this link.