Growing up, Ben Jones and his twin Andrew always saw their doctor father come and go in his white coat. Now, they are on their way to becoming doctors themselves.
The Jones brothers were two of eight recipients of the inaugural Barbara Sheffield Medical Scholarship, established by the Government Employees’ Health Association (GEHA) in 2021, to address the lack of diversity in medicine in the United States
“Our goal at GEHA is to advance the advancement of health equity in all communities,” said John Brown, Head of Human Resources at GEHA. “We believe everyone should feel comfortable seeking and receiving health care, and offering these scholarships to black medical students is just one way we are dealing with the systemic problems that have made health care in America inaccessible and less effective for people of color.”
GEHA, a nonprofit member association based in Lee’s Summit, Mo. commitment this year.
For the year 2020-21, eight students received full scholarships to enter the University of Kansas (KU) School of Medicine. With ongoing funding this year, made possible by a grant through GEHA Solutions, three more students have been awarded scholarships.
The scholarship is named in honor of Barbara Sheffield, the first minority women to serve on the GEHA Board of Directors. To date, GEHA and its subsidiary, GEHA Solutions, have funded the tuition fees of 11 students through a $1.5 million grant to the KU Endowment, with the hope of continuing similar funding in the future.
“It really is a life-changing scholarship for sure,” said Ben Jones. “It gives us more financial stability in terms of not worrying about debt after medical school, as well as an opportunity to help out in the community and be with my family more.”
Without the scholarship, the brothers would have gone to medical school, but they may have gone to different schools or ended up in different cities. Now, both are in their second year of KU medical school in Kansas City, Kansas.
Why black doctors matter
When the Jones twins graduate in 2025, they hope to see more black doctors like themselves.
“Research has shown that racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias continue to plague the US health care system and cause treatment inequalities for racial and ethnic minorities that significantly impact health outcomes,” said Art Neza, President and CEO of GEHA.
Blacks made up about 13% of the US population in 2019, but they represented 5% of the physician workforce, according to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). In 2020, 5.3% of physicians in America identified as black or African American, according to a State physician workforce data report for 2021.
“By offering these scholarships, we hope that over time, we will see more black physicians, particularly in underserved communities,” he said. brouwnadding that it is important for patients to feel comfortable with their doctors to build patient confidence and trust and achieve better health outcomes.
Indeed, 2018 National Bureau of Economic Research The study found that black doctors can help close the 19% cardiovascular death gap between black and white men and the 8% life expectancy gap.
When minorities have suffered a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths during the pandemic, with blacks and Latinos also vaccinated at lower rates than whites, a more diverse medical workforce may have made a difference.
“Patients who trust their doctors are more likely to follow their recommendations for preventive services, such as checkups and vaccinations,” said Dr. Akinolo Ogo, executive dean of the KU School of Medicine. “There is a historical mistrust in the medical community among marginalized populations, which can be mitigated when care is provided by physicians from this same population.”
Making medical school accessible to everyone
“Training a diverse healthcare workforce, representative of the population they will serve, is an important step in addressing health disparities,” Ojo said.
Brown added that training more black doctors is more urgent than ever to address these health disparities.
The Barbara Sheffield Scholarship aims to help reduce barriers to medical school — such as access and financial cost — that continue to disable people of color at an even greater rate. It is awarded based on recommendations from a volunteer committee, which considers the participation of the incoming medical student community and their desire to practice in underserved areas.
For Ben Jones, being a black doctor means more than just helping patients, it’s an honorable profession like that. It is also a responsibility and an opportunity to help the larger black community at large.
Playing with his father’s ear as a child made his dream of becoming a doctor more accessible, so he hopes to set a similar example to his community.
“This is more than just a scholarship,” he said, “it’s a partnership that makes us feel like we’re making a difference.” “We have this opportunity for a reason.”