Photo: Christina House / Contributor via Getty Images
  /  02.24.2023

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that only 5 percent of doctors in the United States are Black. A Los Angeles-area HBCU is looking to change that. Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science began renovations on a state-of-the-art medical school building that will house a new degree program designed to address the shortage of Black doctors in the medical field

CDU was founded in 1966 and originally only offered graduate education. The Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School was founded in the wake of the Watts uprising as a private educational institution that would confront and work to solve racial health disparities in the neighborhood and across the country. It launched an undergraduate medical program in partnership with UCLA School of Medicine in 1978. Prior to the creation of its own standalone med school and accompanying in-house program, CDU students did their pre-clinical training at UCLA for their first two years. 

The “private university with a public mission” continues toward greater equity in medicine to this day. In October 2022, it announced the debut of its independent four-year medical degree program, touting it as the first and only historically Black M.D. program west of the Mississippi. It is also one of only four historically Black medical colleges in the U.S. and is a federally designated Historically Black Graduate Institution.  

CDU’s president, Dr. David Carlisle, pointed out that even though hundreds of doctors have graduated through their joint M.D. program with UCLA, having their own medical school has been a longtime goal and represents another step in serving the needs of Watts and Willowbrook.  

“If you look around this community, if you drive around, do you see private practicing doctors? No. Do you see private practicing pharmacists? No. Dentists? No. You certainly don’t see cosmetic plastic surgeons anywhere around here for example,” Carlisle told CBS Los Angeles. “The secret sauce here is taking students who actually grew up in this community, [and] they are much more motivated to return and serve this community.”

Dr. Arthur Gomez, CDU associate dean of medical education, said that the new developments will do more than just prepare students for their day-to-day careers. It will also teach them to push for wider improvements in the real world. “Here, we will be teaching them not only the science of medicine, but also how to advocate for policy change with a leadership experience,” he said.



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