Diversity

Leadership in Diversity

High school research apprentices attend a Health Care Opportunity Programs symposium in July.

High school research apprentices attend a Health Care Opportunity Programs symposium in July.


This spring, U.S. News & World Report named UConn School of Medicine among the 10 medical schools nationwide with the most African American students, a validation of the School’s efforts to grow the diversity of its student body.

The School’s African American student population for 2018–2019 was 11.8%, well above the national average for medical schools. The national average, which was 6% in 1980, is now 7.1%.

“The lack of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities choosing to enter the fields of medicine and research is a critical and longstanding national issue,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of UConn’s medical school. “We look forward to further helping curb this national issue and building a stronger, more diverse pipeline of future health care professionals through our medical educational mission and training initiatives.”

Research has shown that racial and ethnic diversity in medical education improves the learning and cross-cultural competencies of all doctors. And minority medical students are more likely to work in underserved communities and, therefore, positively influence access to care.

UConn School of Medicine has worked for decades to increase diversity, with much success. With this year’s incoming class, the medical school’s underrepresented-population enrollment is expected to reach a height of nearly 23%. For more than a decade, UConn’s medical school has maintained its overall percentage of African American students and has doubled the number of black males enrolled.

Having among the highest number of African American students “is very gratifying,” says Dr. Marja M. Hurley, founding director and associate dean for the Health Career Opportunity Programs at UConn Health, sponsored by the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative. For nearly two decades, these programs have aimed to attract more young people from across Connecticut, of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, to medicine and science.

Of the nearly 900 youth from the state’s elementary schools, high schools, and colleges who have participated in the programs since 1996, more than 500 have gone on to enter medical, dental, or other health profession schools. Among the School of Medicine Class of 2019, 66% of the African American graduating students participated in one or more of the programs.

“We are very proud of the successes in growing the diversity of our student body, and also building a greater pipeline for a more diverse future health care workforce,” says Hurley.

Liang added: “This is very good recognition for the UConn School of Medicine and the excellent work of our medical school’s Student Affairs team and Dr. Marja Hurley.”

Training Aims to Draw Young Women Into Orthopedics Careers

Program Spotlight

female physician points to spine model


Last fall, 40 female Connecticut high school students and more than a dozen female medical students got hands-on skills training in orthopedic surgery at UConn Health.

The program, which more than 250 high school students applied to, aimed to boost young women’s interest in medicine and science fields including orthopedic surgery. Currently, only 6.1 percent of fully accredited, practicing orthopedic surgeons are female.

The training, held in October 2017, ranged from suturing to simulated surgery training with pins and saws and was facilitated by UConn Health orthopedic surgeon Dr. Katherine J. Coyner. She organized the event as part of the Perry Initiative, a national nonprofit that originated in San Francisco in 2009 with the mission of inspiring young women to become leaders in orthopedic surgery and engineering.

As a member of the Initiative’s board of directors, Coyner believes early exposure to these exciting, hands-on careers is key to boosting diversity and introducing fresh eyes and new perspectives into life-changing fields such as orthopedic surgery. The Perry Initiative is named in honor of Dr. Jacquelin Perry, one of the first 10 women orthopedic surgeons in the country.

“It was really exciting to see the girls so interested and engaged,” Coyner says. “We had a lot of volunteers who spanned different disciplines, so these students got all the perspectives. And with the exposure from this mentoring program, they might see orthopedic surgery as a potential career path.”

Attendee Katelyn Miller from Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford says, “I appreciated the offer [from the orthopedic surgeons] to let me shadow them to see if this is what I really want to do. This made me excited to go to school for a really long time.”

Participating first-year medical student Julia Plourde chose UConn School of Medicine for its orthopedics program.

“The Perry Initiative program really demonstrated the positive environment that orthopedics has, especially the mentorship available to foster the growth of women in orthopedics,” Plourde says. “The exposure that the program provided to me certainly sealed the deal for me to continue on my path to orthopedics.”