Monday, January 18, 2021
Honoring Legends, Championing CDU’s Mission
By Dr. David M. Carlisle, President of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
Published April 7, 2016

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A little over fifty years ago, the Watts community revolted. After decades of neglect, brave leaders and neighbors rose up to demand solutions to the inequities that afflicted our community. The revolt was for a better future for the current residents, their children, and the generations to come. Ultimately, they demanded that our community should be one where residents have access to resources they need to thrive.

To address healthcare disparities, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) was founded to serve the community. Through education and quality healthcare training, we could bring empowerment. It is a mission we have not taken lightly over our fifty-year history. Never has there been a more apt time for us to embrace our mission, in the context of South Los Angeles and across the nation, to continue to serve African American and Latino communities.


According to a publication recently released by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of black males applying to and attending medical school in this country has declined significantly since 1978. Another report documents that between 1978 and 2008, only 5.5% of graduating physicians in the US were Latino, despite the fact that the number of Latino applicants to medical school has tripled over the past 30 years. This backwards progress has serious implications for what has otherwise been incredible gains in our country. The Affordable Care Act has extended health insurance to millions of individuals in minority communities. With this expanded population able to get preventive care, they need access to physicians. Doctors of color are more likely to practice in communities of color and areas underserved by physicians. Ultimately, the downward trend in the number of black men entering medical school and the matriculation rate of Latinos impedes our ability to achieve equitable access to care.

Our founders created a University committed to diversity in our student body and faculty. By recruiting students from underserved backgrounds, our community has had a stronger cohort of health professionals better prepared to relate to patients who need them the most. Pipelines in particular have played a critical role. Pipeline programs can expose young men and women to health careers as an option. When you never see a physician who looks like you, you never know that you could be a physician. This is critically important in a time where African American and Latino students continue to lack equal access to a high quality education and still lag far behind their white peers in reading and math proficiency, high school rates, and college completion. In California, 61.6% of black males graduate high school compared to 81.6% of white males.

Health professions schools are the perfect place to sponsor pipeline programs to encourage minority students to complete high school and consider careers in medicine. For more than twenty years, CDU students have volunteered at the Saturday Science Academy II (SSAII), providing minority youth with exposure to the fields of math and science disciplines. This rigorous academic program fosters knowledge, self-esteem, discipline, positive study habits, confidence and the encouragement to succeed in health, science, and medical professions. Over the years, we have found 90% of students in the program attend college.

Racial minorities are projected to account for half of the U.S. population by 2050, and are already a majority in California. The health of all of us depends on a diversified healthcare workforce, and that requires us ensuring that African Americans and Latinos succeed in medical school. Through pipeline programs and a supportive on-campus environment, CDU is here to make that happen.

Next week, we celebrate legends Ms. Nola Carter and Dr. Robert Tranquada that have helped CDU care for the community and train a diverse workforce since the Watts Revolt. Ms. Carter is a leading South Los Angeles advocate for CDU and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital. During every social movement since the 1950s, she would mobilize to make her community in South Los Angeles a better place. A leading founder of the Watts Health Center, Dr. Robert Tranquada has a decades-long track record of supporting CDU and quality healthcare in South Los Angeles. As an associate dean of the USC School of Medicine, and a CDU board member, he was influential in developing and strengthening student education. Our annual gala will provide support for Student Services at CDU and benefit the Saturday Science Academy II pipeline program. We hope you join us.

Dr. David M. Carlisle is the President and CEO of CDU and is also a much sought after speaker on health disparities as well as a professor of Public Health at CDU. To find out more about CDU and the aforementioned Spring Gala visit

Categories: Opinion
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