All Kinds of Doctors

By Lawrence Goodman / March/April 2015
March 10th, 2015

The BAM recently caught up with Cedric Bright ’85 to ask about the lack of diversity among doctors. Bright runs the Medical Education Development program at the University of North Carolina’s medical school, which aims to increase the number of minority and low-income students in medicine. He has also been president of the National Medical Association, which represents African American physicians and their patients.

Courtesy Cedric Bright
Bright, right, at his 30th Reunion. 
BAM Statistics show that only 2.5 percent of medical school applicants are black. Why so few?
BRIGHT It’s a matter of helping students to be well prepared. What type of counseling are they getting in terms of the courses they need to be taking? What kind of encouragement are they receiving from their teachers? The first two years of college science classes are basically your weeding-out courses: if students make a bad grade, many are discouraged and decide to give up the dream of being a physician.

BAM Nationwide, only 7 percent of med school graduates are African American. But at UNC it’s 25 percent. What are you doing differently?
BRIGHT It’s kind of like the movie Field of Dreams: build it and they will come. As you build a nexus of minority students, they become your ambassadors who help bring in the next class of students. They sell the school. Then, when African Americans or Latinos visit and see people like them and know that they are not going to be the only ones, they have a tendency to want to come here.

We’re also one of the lowest-cost medical schools in the nation. Many out-of-state students find that our out-of-state tuition is cheaper than their in-state tuition.

BAM At Brown you were among a mere handful of African American students doing premed work. What kept you at it?
BRIGHT When I came into Brown, I had come from a boarding high school background so I had already had advanced classes in science. At Brown I had professors and role models who, when I had bad marks, said, “Cedric, you can do better” instead of “Cedric, you should give up.”

BAM You’ve also done a lot of work to reduce racial disparities in treatment. Do you think ObamaCare will help in this area?
BRIGHT [ObamaCare] levels the playing field by allowing everyone to at least have access. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.

You have said ObamaCare represents a paradigm shift in American medicine. What do you mean by that?
BRIGHT We’re moving toward prevention more than treatment. We would prefer that you stay well longer rather than get well soon. We’re moving away from reactionary medicine—keeping people healthy longer rather than saying, “Now you’re sick and were going to practice all this chronic disease treatment.” We would prefer you never get the chronic disease.

BAM Despite your heavy administrative load, you continue to practice medicine as a general internist.
BRIGHT My purpose [in life] is to help people get better than when they came to me.
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Related Issue
March/April 2015