The Limited Professions of Non-foreign Black Americans

A few weeks ago, I went to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey class of 2013 graduation/convocation.  The medical students of 2013 matriculated and officially became physicians.  Congratulations to all of those that conquered this tremendous feat and achieve this monumental goal.

One thing I noticed at this particular commencement was that there was a noticeable lack of African-American students graduating with this med school class.  Seriously.  I mean, there were absolutely none. 

Well, let me clarify.  There were Black men and women who graduated.  However, these folks that graduated were not what I consider native Black Americans.  All of the Black graduates have parents and/or grandparents who are African, Jamaican, Caribbean, or are from other foreign-born countries.  None had parents and grandparents that were born in the US.  This statistic seems saddening.

There still certainly seems to be a great gulf between the amount of Black Americans who pursue certain levels of education in this country.  Here are some statistics that I found that substantiate my observations (found on the AAMC, ADEA, and websites):

  • In 2012, only 6.8% of US Medical school enrollees were considered non-Hispanic Black or African American
  • Only 267 (out of 4,947 total graduates) Black American graduates matriculated from a US Dental school in 2010
  • In 2011-2012, only 6.6% of US Law school enrollees were considered Black or African American
  • For comparison, 164,844 (10.0%) African-Americans conferred an engineering degree in 2010

Just to give a little perspective, 13.1% of the US population is Black.  Therefore, it is clear that Black persons are extraordinarily poorly represented in some professional programs in the US.  And similar stats can be found in other professions as well, including pharmacy, optometry, podiatry, PA, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and chiropractory.

And the thing about these statistics is that we cannot even tease out the exact number of non-foreign Black Americans that were actually enrolled in or graduated from a professional program.  As staggering as the above numbers are, they represent ALL Blacks in the the US that attended these programs; so the number of non-foreign Black Americans that are enrolled in or graduate from these programs is significantly smaller.

It is really sad that non-foreign Blacks are still situated such that they are unwilling to, unaware of, or unable to apply for and graduate from certain professional programs like medicine in the US.  One possible reason is costs.  As seen in the table below, Blacks are among the lowest in dental students with no debt and up to 50K in debt (postgraduation) and the among the highest among the races in education debt that is greater than 150K. 

Another factor is the presence (or lack thereof) of African-American models in America.  Models are necessary in a community because they present the idea of the profession to which youth can aspire.  They also encourage said youth that acheiving these particular professions is possible and, in fact, ideal for many future careers of youth.  It is rare to find a Black dentist, pharmacist, or podiatrist in the community; this makes it difficult for youth to aspire for such career paths (and sometimes even know about them).  Merely having a Black doctor as a family member could inspire a younger person in the family to acheive such goals.  The importance of models cannot be overstated.

Whatever the reasons may be, it is still sad that non-foreign African Americans are significantly underrepresented in certain professions.  Somehow, this has got to change

-Deshawn (@ShonJay714)


Sidebar: There actually was one guy who graduated from UMDNJ Med school that has no immediate African or Caribbean lineage.  However, this guy was a part of an organization called Jack and Jill.  Jack and Jill is an African-American family organization established in 1938 that provides cultural, social, educational, civic, and recreational activities that stimulate and expand the Black culture.  This exclusive organization (that apparently you have to be born into) helps lure young Black Americans into professional programs (like medicine) and cultivate professional skills necessary to matriculate in such environments.  Few Black Americans are a part of this organization, so the person that was is an exception to this rule.

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    • lii
      June 5, 2013

      Your right…. it’s sad. ..I wonder if the numbers are improving…. still very low though. …I know growing up I often felt like myself or my family were the only African American represented in just regular life social stuff…. like dance class or camping….kinda always felt in the spotlight. ..hmm… anyway interesting article

    • droc
      June 5, 2013

      Yea I could see that.. speaking as a foreign black person, I can see how the psyche of the black native born person, could be effected in such a way! Things do have a way of turning around..I mean we do have a black President. Times are changing ! I remember growing up it wasn’t cool to be smart or goto college!Now iI think blacks native kids are starting to see the light.

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