Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black Catholic university in New Orleans, is planning to open a medical school and graduate school of health sciences, a move it hopes will help diversify the medical field and curb a physician shortage, the university said this week.
The school is researching what it might teach, who it might hire and how it might pay for its new program, officials said. Xavier is also talking to local hospitals who might admit its students for clinical rotations.
The planning process will take at least three years, said Reynold Verret, Xavier’s president. School administrators have been discussing the possibility for more than five years.
“We’re not in a hurry, because we want to do this well,” Verret said.
Xavier’s pre-med program has been touted nationally for sending more Black students to medical school than nearly any other college. But the diversity gains in the medical field as a whole have been small, and Verret said a medical school could allow Xavier to have a greater impact.
Despite a chronic health care shortage and some of the poorest health care outcomes, Louisiana faces a medical school and residency shortage that is also reflected nationwide.
According to data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges last year, the U.S. could face a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. Another recent report by the AAMC noted that “Black or African American applicants, matriculants and graduates lagged behind other groups.”
“It’s important that we not only address the physician shortage but that we address the diversity of the physician population,” Verret said. “As we learned throughout the pandemic – but we knew beforehand – trust and representation are linked. Trust is an important part of public health and also in addressing health disparities.”
Though more than a dozen historically Black medical schools existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, today, only four persist, according to the National Medical Association. Those are Howard University College of Medicine in Washington D.C., Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Meharry Medical College in Nashville and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in California. The others, including the John D. Flint Medical College in New Orleans, closed due to a lack of funding or faculty. Those closures likely contributed to the physician shortage and the lack of diversity in the field, Verret said.
Xavier’s medical school would join four others in Louisiana: Tulane University School of Medicine, LSU Health New Orleans, LSU Health Shreveport, and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), which will graduate its first class in 2024. Ochsner Health also has a partnership with University of Queensland in Australia in which students complete their first two years of study in Australia followed by clinical rotations at Ochsner in Louisiana.
Xavier has founded other health professional programs in recent years, all in fields that have extremely low rates of representation of people of color. They include public health, speech pathology, pharmaceutical studies and health analytics, as well as a physician’s assistant program in partnership with Ochsner Health System.
“Xavier was founded with the mission of promoting the creation of a just and humane society through education,” Verret said. “The establishment of graduate education programs dedicated to the preparation of more black healthcare professionals is a natural extension of our foundress’ legacy, as we approach our second century of service. It is also where we are called to answer a critical need of our nation.”
Emily Woodruff contributed reporting.