Report on Minority Health Finds Few Black Oncologists

September 1, 1995

BETHESDA, Md--Of the more than 30 million African-Americans in the United States today, fewer than 60 are board-certified oncologists, according to an NIH research report on minority health.

BETHESDA, Md--Of the more than 30 million African-Americans inthe United States today, fewer than 60 are board-certified oncologists,according to an NIH research report on minority health.

"This situation reflects the larger problem of too few minoritiesin research and medical careers all across the board," saidOtis Brawley, MD, NCI senior investigator and one of only threeblacks out of 104 in the 1985 graduating class at the Universityof Chicago Medical School.

Some Schools Offer No Biology

Obstacles exist at all levels for black students interested incareers in science and medicine, the report said. According toNelson Canton of the National Education Association, about 30%of inner city high schools with large minority enrollments haveno physics classes, and about 17% offer no courses in biologyor chemistry.

Even in schools with a good science curriculum, black studentshave an economic disincentive to go into research, said WalterSullivan, PhD, vice president for health promotion at MorehouseSchool of Medicine in Atlanta.

"When a typical student, African- American or white, graduatesfrom medical school, he or she often has a huge debt that mustbe paid back," Dr. Sullivan said. "The last thing minoritiescan afford to do is to invest in more training or take a job ina relatively low paying field such as science. They may reallywant to do research, but they just can't afford it."

Adopt-a-School

As a result of 1993 legislation, the NIH has a program that willpay off the educational loans of qualified minority clinical researcherswho work there. Even so, blacks remain outsiders in research careers,Dr. Brawley said, because they are not exposed to the appropriateenvironment or do not have access to the connections needed toadvance.

In an effort to create and strengthen those connections, NCI wasone of the first NIH institutes to participate in the "Adopt-a-SchoolProgram," in which students at a school with a primarilyblack enrollment (in this case, McKinley High School, Washington,DC) are selected to attend monthly health and science sessionswith NCI scientists.

Students also are brought to NCI for a firsthand look at biomedicalresearch. At the end of the school year, a small number are selectedto participate in a summer program in which they work closelywith NCI scientists.

Such programs are essential to help break down the barriers facedby blacks and other minorities. In 1992, the reports said, abouta quarter of the 16,000 students enrolled in US medical schoolswere minorities.