May 11, 2001 Attracting the best of the best: Recruiting minority residents
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May 11, 2001

Attracting the best of the best: Recruiting minority residents

On March 22, Erica Marsh was one of thousands of medical students who anxiously ripped into envelopes that sealed their futures. It was on this day — referred to as Match Day when medical students are "matched" with academic medical centers for training — that Marsh learned that her first four years of training as a doctor would be with the joint MGH and BWH Obstetrics and Gynecology Program. She was thrilled. It was also on this day that Marsh joined a smaller group – new residents who are underrepresented minorities.

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MAO staff, back row, from left, Olson, Williams and Turner. Front row, Beal, Gonzalez, Reid and newcomer Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH.

A growing problem that Boston-area hospitals face is that many minority medical school graduates are recruited to other parts of the country to do their training, and they then go on to become practicing physicians and senior faculty in those geographical areas. As a result, recruiting minority medical school graduates has become a priority for the MGH. Leading the charge is the president of the hospital, James J. Mongan, MD, and the recently expanded staff of the MGH Multicultural Affairs Office (MAO). In fact, MAO now has full-time, onsite staff dedicated to this task, thanks to the recruitment of Elena Olson as program manager and Shairi Turner as manager of Trainee Affairs.

Marsh is no stranger to either. She met Mongan when she had an informal internship with him in 1999. She had her first encounter with the MAO in 1996 when she participated in the MAO Summer Research Trainee Program, which exposes minority students to biomedical research and clinical medicine. Those two experiences — along with the reputation of the training program and her relationship with two of her mentors, Janet Hall, MD, and William F. Crowley, MD, both of the MGH Reproductive Endocrine Unit — are what helped persuade Marsh to rank the MGH/BWH program highly on her match list.

It may not surprise many that Marsh would select the MGH. After all, the hospital has an internationally renowned training program that many medical students — past, present and future — seek as their ideal training ground for becoming established physicians. But for minority candidates, the MGH hasn't always been an optimal choice.

According to Win Williams, MD, director of the MAO, the MGH has a reputation of sometimes being a cold and aloof place to train, especially for physicians of color. But the MAO staff, along with the support of MGH leadership and the hospitalwide Diversity Committee, are working to change that.

"Our goal is to help make minority candidates feel welcomed here and to work with MGH departments to help recruit top-notch minority candidates," he says. In fact, Williams and the MAO staff worked tirelessly in January and February — prime recruitment months when medical students interview at teaching institutions — to help MGH departments welcome minority candidates. For the first time in the MGH's history, the MAO staff offered recruitment assistance to all 20 residency training programs at the MGH, and provided various levels of customized assistance to departments, depending on their needs.

Williams, along with Turner and associate directors Anne Beal, MD; Ernesto Gonzalez, MD; and Andrea Reid, MD, all met individually with minority candidates to share not only information about what it is like to train and work at the MGH, but about what it is like to do so as a physician of color. The MAO staff met with more than 70 minority candidates and invited current minority residents and senior faculty to participate in recruitment dinners and conduct interviews to give further encouragement and insight to the candidates.

And when Match Day came, out of the 20 programs participating, four programs — Dermatology, Internal Medicine, Medicine/Pediatrics and Surgery — increased the number of minority residents selecting them. Although this was good news, 11 programs did not match any minority candidates. Despite these results, the MAO staff are encouraged by their efforts. Turner believes that the numbers do not tell a complete story.

"The candidates who interviewed at the MGH were very impressed by our [MAO's] involvement in the recruitment process," she says. "I personally received numerous e-mails from students stating that our office was unique in that no other hospital in the country made such an effort to recruit applicants of color."

Olson says: "We got the best of the best. Surgery and Medicine matched more minority residents this year than in previous years. In fact, the residency programs interviewed more minority applicants than ever before. This is only the beginning. We have more work to do, but with the continued commitment of the programs and the hospital leadership, we can do better next year."

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Williams and Marsh at Mongan's annual reception for new minority house staff last year.



And Williams says he believes that increasing the number of minority residents who train at the MGH is possible. "Recruiting minority residents doesn't mean changing any standards here at the MGH," he says. "We are championing excellence just as the MGH has done for decades. However, if we do nothing to recruit minority candidates, these bright and talented people will go elsewhere because they are being heavily recruited around the country."

Marsh acknowledges that there are not as many physicians of color on staff at the MGH as at some other hospitals across the country — a fact that she did consider as she was making her decision. But she also factored in the experiences that she had while doing her rotations at the MGH. "I was able to develop great relationships with physicians who didn't share the same race, but with whom I did share a passion for medicine, research and patient care," she says. "These common interests proved to be more than enough of a bridge to establish a good working relationship. And it is those relationships that were critical in my decision to rank the MGH/BWH program highly."

According to Olson, the MAO has developed programs to help support minority medical students and residents with networking and mentorship opportunities. These programs include the Summer Research Trainee Program, the Hispanic Medical Student Mentorship Program, a minority house staff organization and outreach programs with Harvard Medical School (HMS).

Both Turner and Olson, based on feedback from residency applicants, emphasize that it is the relationship building and opportunities for mentorship that are key to the process.

"Attracting minority candidates is more than taking them out to dinner before Match Day," says Turner. "We as an institution need to develop relationships with minority medical students early on. Particularly with HMS students, we have an opportunity to do so during their rotations. They need to feel that there is a compelling reason to come here."

Olson adds, "Mentoring minority medical students is vital to the future — theirs and ours."

For more information about MAO programs, call Olson at (617) 724-3831 or visit

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