“The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope. That is why the patient’s hopes are the physician’s secret weapon. They are the hidden ingredients in any prescription.” – Norman Cousins
The University of the Virgin Islands simply continues to impress. The HBCU that few people know or talk about as an HBCU keeps its head down and continues the vital work of African Diaspora building. In recent years, UVI has seen a meteoric rise into HBCU Money’s Top Ten HBCU Endowments seemingly out of nowhere. This time the University of the Virgin Islands leads once again showing the constitution of action and strategic planning with the creation of the HBCU Diaspora’s fifth medical school and first ever public medical school. The latter being long overdue.
While it would have been preferable that the medical school bear the name of a historical figure of African descent, Ianthe Blyden or Myrah Keating Smith, two Virgin Islander nurses who were renowned for their healthcare work. Instead, it appears the medical school will retain the name of its financial benefactor, Donald Sussman. Mr. Sussman, according to UVI’s press release, “the founder of Paloma Partners, was a member of the UVI Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2012.”
The public HBCU medical school’s importance can not be overstated. Public institutions represent a way for a group to extract their economic interest from an overall pool of funds that citizens pay into. In other words, Citizen A pays their taxes into an overall pool of taxes, politicians then decide how those funds will be disbursed to the public institutions representing the different interest of the citizenry. The problem that has plagued the interests of African Americans is that we pay into the system, but rarely have public institutions that are able to leverage pulling out funds from the pool to meet our social and economic needs. In this case, that social need is a vast investment in our health outcomes. UVI’s medical school will allow African Americans a significantly more affordable route to the community’s production of medical doctors and health professionals than can currently be offered by private institutions. That is because public institutions, through that tax pool, are able to subsidize the cost of the education they are providing. The lack of a public HBCU medical school has meant that many African American doctors are often forced to go after hospital positions that are well paid and more likely to cater to non-African American patients or medical facilities upon finishing medical school. Community health clinics become out of the question with six-figure student loan debts.
How dire is the situation for African American doctors and health professionals? Asian Americans have 1 doctor for every 117 people in its population, European Americans have 1 doctor for every 457 people in its population, and African Americans have 1 doctor for every 914 people in its population. Institutionally speaking, there is only one African American owned hospital left as well, run and operated by Howard University.
There is an over 25 percent greater chance if you are African American ages 18-49 that you will not see a doctor because of costs to our white counterparts and a 50 percent chance if you are 50-64 that you will not see a doctor because of cost compared to our white counterparts according to statistics gathered by the American Community Survey from 2014. It is without a doubt that the COVID-19 Pandemic and Recession has probably only exacerbated those statistics. With other factors impacting African American health such as unemployment which means no insurance, poverty, no home ownership, and more, one could argue that African America has been in a health crisis and in order to stop the proverbial “bleeding” then we need to address a severe shortage in doctors and nurses coming from our community. The new medical school at UVI will go a long way in doing just that.
HBCUs medical schools, however, must connect themselves more strongly to HBCU undergraduate pipelines to ensure the best of the best from our institutions remain within our institutional ecosystem. It would not hurt to develop a Pre-K to Medical School strategy either. This means that HBCU alumni from all institutions must support more endowed scholarships at these HBCU medical schools for HBCU undergraduates looking to go to medical school. It also means that we can not rest simply on having one public HBCU medical school. We need others, expeditiously. The building of a global Pan-African health system that is centric to our needs is something we need more of – again, expeditiously. The creation of HBCU medical schools will go a long way into the formation of doing our part in accomplishing that. Let us hope it is not another 55 years before the next one is created, but for now let us celebrate and support the wonderful accomplishment of our brothers and sisters at University of the Virgin Islands.