First Lady McCray Wants New Yorkers to Demand more Funding for Medical Diversity Scholarships

First Lady McCray
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First Lady McCray. Demetrius Freeman/NYC Mayoral Photography Office.

New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and others are calling on the State legislature to increase funding to the Diversity in Medicine Scholarship program, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides $42,000 annually to underrepresented ethnic minorities, Black, Latinx, and Native American, medical students. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo released his proposed fiscal year 2022 budget for New York State earlier this year, on Jan. 19. The theme of Governor Cuomo’s proposal is Reimagine, Rebuild, and Renew New York State. A significant portion of the Governor’s $192 billion budget focuses on providing resources for higher education, defeating Covid-19, and strengthening healthcare delivery. Absent for the Governor’s budget or not explicitly mentioned is the Associated Medical Schools of New York State (AMSNY) Diversity in Medicine Scholarship program.

Citing studies that show improved health outcomes when physicians are culturally aware or reflective of the communities they serve, McCray, the first lady, is lending her voice and support to this cause. She is asking that New Yorkers call or email their state legislators to ask for increased funding to the diversity in medicine program. 

There is a shortage of doctors in general. The average age of a doctor is 62. That shortage is exacerbated in Black and Latinx communities. Many of these doctors will retire within the upcoming decade. Black and Latinx communities need doctors. More so, Black and Latinx communities need doctors who are aware of and can relate to the barriers and social determinants of health impacting these communities. 

“Since this is a program that most people don’t know about,” says McCray, “it is easy to cut. We need to talk about it.” The Diversity in Medicine program has graduated over 500 students in its 30 years history. First Lady McCray continues by saying, “since 2008 the State has consistently failed to properly fund and market the program.” 

In addition to funding the scholarships, she asks that the State legislature use resources to promote the program on campuses across New York State. The diversity in medicine program should also be marketed to high school students encouraging those interested in pursuing medicine to look at state and local institutions as an affordable and viable option. Lack of capital or access to it is a huge barrier in pursuing an advanced degree. It is often said that people perish from the lack of knowledge, so too does diversity. 

For fiscal; 2021 Governor Cuomo sought to cut the program’s budget by 20%. The New York State legislature rejected the governor’s request and appropriated $1.24 million to the Diversity in Medicine program and $500,000 for the Diversity in Medicine scholarship. The AMSNY released the following statistics in 2020: “In New York, individuals who are Black/African American and/or Hispanic/Latino comprise 31.1% of the state’s population but are only 12.1% of the physician workforce.”

Luckily the State legislature saw the importance and need for diversity in medicine and the positive impact it has on health outcomes for medically underserved areas and medically underserved populations. For the 2020-2021 semester, there were only 10 recipients of the diversity in medicine scholarship. 

The scholarship is a one-year award and students must apply each year they are in medical school. It is available to students who agree to work in an underserved area in New York State upon completion of their medical education. To qualify for the program students must be domiciled in New York State, and are currently enrolled in an AMSNY post-baccalaureate program or have completed an AMSNY post-baccalaureate degree program and presently attending medical school. 

The timing of the First Lady McCray’s request for New Yorkers to demand more funding for the programs is lockstep with State’s budget calendar, as FY’22 begins on April 1. 

The state legislature is currently reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget and amending allocations. McCray wants New Yorkers to reach out to their New York State Assembly Member and Senator. Diversity in Medicine improves health outcomes and saves lives, she says.

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