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Opening pathways for representation in care

Memorial Health Care System Foundation

CommonSpirit Health understands that we must meet patients where they are, through care delivery that understands, responds to and supports patients' diverse geographies, social, economic and cultural experiences and needs. Who we train to become a provider matters. Who conducts research at the bench matters. Who participates in and benefits from clinical trials, discoveries and innovations matters.

Today in America, only 23% of Black Americans have a physician who looks like them. Underrepresented racial and ethnic groups comprise only about 9% of the U.S. physician workforce but 33% of the population. Meanwhile, death rates for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and cancer as well as maternal and infant mortality are at least two times higher among persons of color as a result of entrenched economic, social and environmental inequities faced by these communities.

Across CommonSpirit, programs are being innovated, deployed and expanded to address these disparities. Facilities like CHI Memorial Health in Chattanooga, Tennessee, are prioritizing the education and training of our next generation of caregivers—highly skilled practitioners whose ethnicity and cultural experiences better reflect the communities they will serve.

Who we train to become a provider matters. Who conducts research at the bench matters. Who participates in and benefits from clinical trials, discoveries and innovations matters.

Although 44% of Chattanooga’s population identifies as “non-white,” in CHI Memorial’s medical offices and clinics only 8% of staff identify as Black or African American. CHI Memorial is addressing this widening gap in representation through long term pathways of recruitment and retention for those who might have never considered the medical field as a viable employment option.

A $20,000 grant to CHI Memorial Foundation from Unum, an international insurance services company headquartered locally, will support a new Medical Assistant (MA) Apprenticeship Program. The funding, from Unum’s Social Justice Fund, will support the creation of a partnership with Chattanooga State Community College to grow a much needed pool of medical assistants with a special emphasis on placing underrepresented individuals within the health care field. Partnerships with local nonprofits and community stakeholders will be utilized to attract and recruit individuals who historically would not receive the opportunity to join the medical field.

The intensive program will blend the practical benefits of an apprenticeship with the necessary educational component for a career in medicine as participants will participate in clinical rotations, online coursework and placement in area clinical offices. Each apprentice will be paired with a mentor for shadowing and guidance and, because the program is based solely on competency, they will have the ability to complete the program in less than 12 months. Through the grant, CHI Memorial is not only able to provide scholarships for the program, participants are also paid a salary and are guaranteed a position upon successful completion of their training.

Potentially learning and working alongside the medical assistant apprentices at CHI Memorial are students from Morehouse School of Medicine. The Chattanooga hospital was the first to benefit from the historic More in Common Alliance, a 10-year, $100 million partnership between CommonSpirit Health and Morehouse School of Medicine to increase cultural competency and expand representation in clinical care to improve both access and the quality of care patients receive.

Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine is one of America’s leading educators of primary care physicians. Though there are 155 accredited medical schools in the United States, the majority of the nation’s Black physicians are trained at Morehouse School of Medicine and the nation’s three other historically Black medical schools. CommonSpirit Health is one of America’s largest nonprofit health systems, with 150,000 employees, 140 hospitals and more than 1,000 care sites in 21 states. Together, over the next 10 years, we will train more culturally competent providers by increasing enrollment and tripling the number of graduate medical education slots for residents who are underrepresented in medicine.

The unique partnership will aim to recruit students from underserved communities to spend their first two years of study at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, establish regional medical school training sites in underserved areas, where students will continue their medical training, and develop graduate medical education programs in markets with CommonSpirit facilities.

CHI Memorial was the first site to accept undergraduate students from the More in Common Alliance, in the fall of 2021. Additional undergraduate training sites will be at CommonSpirit hospitals in Lexington, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington. Graduate medical education sites will be placed at CommonSpirit hospitals in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Ventura County and Bakersfield, California.

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