Racial Differences in Attrition Rates at Medical Schools in the United States

A new study led by researchers at Yale Medical School finds that African Americans and students from other underrepresented groups are more likely to drop out of medical school than their White peers.

In a study of 33 389 medical school matriculants, students who identified as underrepresented in medicine race and ethnicity, had low income, and were from underresourced backgrounds were more likely to leave medical school. The rate of attrition increased with each additional coexisting marginalized identity.

The results show that 2.3 percent of White medical school students did not complete their training compared to 5.7 percent of Black matriculants to medical schools. Students from low-income families and those who lived in underresourced neighborhoods were also more likely not to finish medical school. Students who were from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, and also from a low-income family who lived in an underresourced neighborhood had a dropout rate that was nearly four times the rate of White students who were not from a low-income family and did not live in an underresourced neighborhood.

The authors state that “diversity in the medical workforce is critical to improve health care access and achieve equity for resource-limited communities. Despite increased efforts to recruit diverse medical trainees, there remains a large chasm between the racial and ethnic and socioeconomic composition of the patient population and that of the physician workforce.” They urge that not only is there a need to recruit a diverse student body but new programs must be put in place to increase retention rates at medical school for underrepresented groups.

The full study, “Association of Sociodemographic Characteristics With US Medical Student Attrition,” was published on the website of JAMA Internal Medicine. It may be accessed here.

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