Concern grows around US health-care workforce shortage: ‘We don’t have enough doctors’ | CNN



CNN
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There is mounting concern among some US lawmakers about the nation’s ongoing shortage of health-care workers, and the leaders of historically Black medical schools are calling for more funding to train a more diverse workforce.

As of Monday, in areas where a health workforce shortage has been identified, the United States needs more than 17,000 additional primary care practitioners, 12,000 dental health practitioners and 8,200 mental health practitioners, according to data from the Health Resources & Services Administration. Those numbers are based on data that HRSA receives from state offices and health departments.

“We have nowhere near the kind of workforce, health-care workforce, that we need,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told CNN on Friday. “We don’t have enough doctors. We don’t have enough nurses. We don’t have enough psychologists or counselors for addiction. We don’t have enough pharmacists.”

The heads of historically Black medical schools met with Sanders in a roundtable at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta on Friday to discuss the nation’s health-care workforce shortage.

The health-care workforce shortage is “more acute” in Black and brown communities; the Black community constitutes 13% of the US population, but only 5.7% of US physicians are Black, said Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

“What we’re trying to do in this committee – in our Health, Education, Labor Committee – is grow the health-care workforce and put a special emphasis on the needs to grow more Black doctors, nurses, psychologists, et cetera,” Sanders said.

At Friday’s roundtable, the leaders of the Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Howard University and Charles R. Drew University called for more resources and opportunities to be allocated to their institutions to help grow the nation’s incoming health-care workforce.

“Allocating resources and opportunities matter for us to increase capacity and scholarships and programming to help support these students as they matriculate through,” Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of the Morehouse School of Medicine, told CNN.

“But also, the other 150-plus medical schools, beyond our four historically Black medical schools, owe it to the country to increase the diversity of the students that they train,” Rice said, adding that having a health-care workforce that reflects the communities served helps reduce the health inequities seen in the United States.

Historically Black medical schools are “the backbone for training Black doctors in this country,” Dr. Hugh Mighty, senior vice president for health affairs at Howard University, said at Friday’s event. “As the problem of Black physician shortages rise, within the general context of the physician workforce shortage, many communities of need will continue to be underserved.”

A new study commissioned by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities estimates that the economic burden of health inequities in the United States has cost the nation billions of dollars. Such inequities are illustrated in how Black and brown communities tend to have higher rates of serious health outcomes such as maternal deaths, certain chronic diseases and infectious diseases.

The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University and other institutions, analyzed excess medical care expenditures, death records and other US data from 2016 through 2019. They took a close look at health inequities in the cost of medical care, differences in premature deaths and the amount of labor market productivity that has been lost due to health reasons.

The researchers found that, in 2018, the economic burden of health inequities for racial and ethnic minority communities in the United States was up to $451 billion, and the economic burden of health inequities for adults without a four-year college degree was up to $978 billion.

“These findings provide a clear and important message to health care leaders, public health officials, and state and federal policy makers – the economic magnitude of health inequities in the US is startlingly high,” Drs. Rishi Wadhera and Issa Dahabreh, both of Harvard University, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the new study in the journal JAMA.

The Covid-19 pandemic “pulled the curtain back” on health inequities, such as premature death and others, Rice said, and “we saw a disproportionate burden” on some communities.

“We saw a higher death rate in Black and brown communities because of access and fear and a whole bunch of other factors, including what we recognize as racism and unconscious bias,” Rice said.

“We needed more physicians, more health-care providers. So, we already know when we project out to 2050, we have a significant physician shortage based on the fact that we cannot educate and train enough health care professionals fast enough,” she said. “We can’t just rely on physicians. We have to rely on a team approach.”

She added that the nation’s shortage of health-care workers leaves the country ill-prepared to respond to future pandemics.

The United States is projected to face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034 as the demand outpaces supply, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The workforce shortage means “we’re really not prepared” for another pandemic, Sanders said.

“We don’t have the public health infrastructure that we need state by state. We surely don’t have the doctors and the nurses that we need,” Sanders said. “So what we are trying to do now is to bring forth legislation, which will create more doctors and more nurses, more dentists, because dental care is a major crisis in America.”

In March, Bill McBride, executive director of the National Governors Association, wrote a letter to Sanders and Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy detailing the “root causes” of the health-care workforce shortage and potential ways some states are hoping to tackle the crisis.

“Governors have taken innovative steps to address the healthcare workforce shortage facing their states and territories by boosting recruitment efforts, loosening licensing requirements, expanding training programs and raising providers’ pay,” McBride wrote.

“Shortages in healthcare workers is not a new challenge but has only worsened in the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnout and stress have only exacerbated this issue,” he wrote. “The retirement and aging of an entire generation is front and center of the healthcare workforce shortage, particularly impacting rural communities.”

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Covid-sniffing dogs can help detect infections in K-12 schools, new study suggests | CNN



CNN
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Elementary students lined up behind a white curtain in the middle of a grand gymnasium at their school in northern California. They stood still as a dog handler walked a yellow Labrador along the other side of the curtain.

Hidden from the children’s view, the 2-year-old female pup sniffed each child’s shoes from beneath that curtain barrier. After each sniff, the dog looked back up at the handler. Then the handler brought the dog to the next tiny pair of feet beneath the curtain, and the dog curiously brought her snout close to those toes, then a young girl’s lavender tennis shoes and then another child’s white high-tops.

The dog was smelling for what are called volatile organic compounds that are known to be associated with Covid-19 infections.

While watching the Covid-sniffing dog in action, Dr. Carol Glaser saw her vision come to life.

Months prior, Glaser and her team were implementing the school’s Covid-19 testing program, using antigen nasal swab tests. Around that same time, Glaser heard about reports of dogs being used to screen for Covid-19 infections in sports venues, airports and other public settings.

That’s when Glaser had her “aha” moment – incorporating canines into Covid-19 testing programs at schools, nursing homes or other public facilities could help save time, personnel, possibly even costs, and “would be a lot more fun,” she said.

“I thought if we had dogs in schools to screen the students it would be so much faster and less burdensome for schools,” said Glaser, assistant deputy director in Central Laboratory Services and medical officer for infectious disease laboratories at the California Department of Public Health.

“Remember when an antigen test is done at school, as opposed to home, there’s a whole bunch of rules and regulations that run under that. It’s not as simple as just handing those things out at school and having the kids do them,” said Glaser, who oversaw antigen testing programs at some California public schools.

For now, Glaser and her colleagues described in a new study the lessons they learned from the Covid-19 dog screening pilot program that they launched in some California K-12 public schools.

In their research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, they wrote that the goal was to use dogs for screening and only use antigen tests on people whom the dogs screened as positive – ultimately reducing the volume of antigen tests performed by about 85%.

They wrote that their study supports the “use of dogs for efficient and noninvasive” Covid-19 screening and “could be used for other pathogens.”

The dogs used in the pilot program – two yellow Labradors named Rizzo and Scarlett – trained for a couple of months in a laboratory, sniffing donated socks that were worn by people who either had Covid-19 or didn’t. The dogs alerted their handlers when they detected socks that had traces of the disease – and received a reward of either Cheerios or liver treats.

“The one thing we do know for sure is when you’re collecting a sample off of a human being, you want to go where the most scent is produced. That is the head, the pits, the groin and the feet. Given those options, I went with feet,” said Carol Edwards, an author of the study and executive director of the nonprofit Early Alert Canines, which trains medical alert service dogs, including Rizzo and Scarlett.

“We collected some socks from people willing to donate socks, and we taught the dogs, by smelling the socks, which ones were the Covid socks and they picked it up very quickly,” Edwards said. “Then we moved into the schools and started sniffing the kids at the ankles.”

Last year, from April to May, the dogs visited 27 schools across California to screen for Covid-19 in the real world. They completed more than 3,500 screenings.

Rizzo acted as an energized worker, performing tasks with eagerness, Edwards said, while Scarlett tended to have more of a mellow and easygoing personality.

The screening process involves people – who voluntarily opted in to participate – standing 6 feet apart while the dogs, led by handlers, sniff each person’s ankles and feet. The dogs are trained to sit as a way of alerting their handlers that they detect a potential Covid-19 infection.

To protect each person’s privacy, sometimes the people face away from the dogs and toward a wall or behind a curtain, so that they can’t see the dogs or when a dog sits. If the dog sits in between two people, the handler will verbally ask the dog, “Show me?” And the dog will move its snout to point toward the correct person.

“Our dogs can come in, they can screen 100 kids in a half hour, and then only the ones the dog alerts on have to actually do a test,” Edwards said. “There’s no invasive nasal swab unless the dog happens to indicate on you.”

The researchers found that the dogs accurately alerted their handlers to 85 infections and ruled out 3,411 infections, resulting in an overall accuracy of 90%.

However, the dogs inaccurately alerted their handlers to infections in 383 instances and missed 18 infections, which means the dogs demonstrated 83% sensitivity and 90% specificity when it came to detecting Covid-19 infections in the study.

“Once we stepped into the schools, we saw a drop in their specificity and sensitivity due to the change,” Edwards said, referring to the distractions that children in a school setting can bring. However, Edward said, accuracy improved as the dogs spent more times in schools.

In comparison, Covid-19 BinaxNOW antigen tests have been shown in one real-world study to demonstrate 93.3% sensitivity and 99.9% specificity. That study was conducted in San Francisco and published in 2021 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“We never said the dogs will replace the antigen. This was a time for us to learn how they compared,” Glaser said. “We will always plan on doing some amount of backup testing, but the idea would be that the actual antigen testing would be a fraction of what it would currently be because of the dogs.”

“To run these antigen testing programs at school, it’s taking a lot of school personnel resources, test cards as well as biohazard waste. So, I have no doubt in the long-run once it can be perfected, dogs will be cheaper, but I don’t have a great cost comparison,” she said.

This isn’t the first time that dogs’ abilities to detect traces of Covid-19 infections in real-time have been studied in the scientific literature.

“What we have learned in this work is that the dogs in general are capable of discriminating samples from individuals testing,” said Dr. Cindy Otto, professor and director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the new study.

Regarding the new research, Otto said, “On the surface their results are encouraging and with the appropriate selection of dogs, rigorous training and impeccable quality control, there is the potential for dogs to be incorporated in threat monitoring.”

Now that Glaser and her colleagues have published research about their Covid-19 dog screening pilot program, she is eager to implement the approach in nursing home settings.

“Honestly, schools aren’t that interested in testing anymore. The outbreaks just aren’t what they used to be, but what we have done is we’ve transitioned to nursing homes, because there is a tremendous need in nursing homes,” Glaser said, adding that many residents may prefer to undergo screening with a dog than with uncomfortable nasal swabs. “What would you rather have: A swab in your nose or something that just maybe tickles your ankle at most for testing?”

Covid-sniffing dogs Scarlett and Rizzo at a skilled nursing home in California.

In skilled nursing homes, the dogs visit each resident’s room to sniff their feet, calmly smelling for Covid-19 volatile organic compounds as the resident lies in bed or sits in a chair.

“Thinking about where dogs would be deployed, I do really think nursing homes and residential care facilities and even schools – if they were ever to have a big outbreak – would be the natural next fit for this,” Glaser said.

“We think we’ll probably end up primarily using them in nursing homes,” she said. “But we’re still doing a little bit of both – there was a school that asked us to come back last week.”

The pilot program within California public schools also has left Edwards with hope for future opportunities in which canines can help detect disease in humans.

“I really do think it’s the tip of the iceberg. This is the door swinging wide open, and now we need to collaborate with those in the science world and figure out where we can take this,” Edwards said.

“There’s been a lot of chatter, even in the very beginning of this project, talking about what other diseases they could do. We’ve talked about TB, we’ve talked about flu A and B, possibly for this next flu season, seeing if we can get the dogs to alert on that,” she said, as volatile organic compounds are also produced by people with influenza. “It’s just a matter of being able to figure out how to collect samples, how to train the dogs, and then to be safe and effective around those diseases too.”

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Mental health struggles are driving more college students to consider dropping out, survey finds | CNN



CNN
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Isabel, a 20-year-old undergraduate student, is no stranger to hard work. She graduated high school a year early and spent most of 2021 keeping up with three jobs. But when she started college that fall, she felt like she was “sinking.”

She knew that she wasn’t feeling like herself that first semester: Her bubbly personality had dimmed, and she was crying lots more than she was used to.

It all came to a head during a Spanish exam. Isabel, who identifies as both Latina and Black, overheard a video that other students were watching about racism in her communities. Negative emotions swelled, and she had to walk out without finishing the test. She rushed back to her room, angry and upset, and broke her student card when hitting it on the door to get in.

“And I just started having a full-blown panic attack,” she said. “My mind was racing everywhere.”

Isabel says she begged her parents to let her stay on campus, but they insisted that she make the three-hour drive home, and she soon took a medical withdrawal.

A new survey shows that a significant number of college students struggle with their mental health, and a growing share have considered dropping out themselves.

Two out of 5 undergraduate students – including nearly half of female students – say they frequently experience emotional stress while attending college, according to a survey published Thursday by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, a private independent organization focused on creating accessible opportunities for post-secondary learning. The survey was conducted in fall 2022, with responses from 12,000 adults who had a high school degree but had not yet completed an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

More than 40% of students currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program had considered dropping out in the past six months, up from 34% in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the survey found. Most cited emotional stress and personal mental health as the reason, far more often than others like financial considerations and difficulty of coursework.

Young adult years are a vulnerable time for mental health in general, and the significant changes that often come with attending college can be added stressors, experts say.

“About 75% of lifetime mental health problems will onset by the mid-20s, so that means that the college years are a very epidemiologically vulnerable time,” said Sarah K. Lipson, an assistant professor at Boston University and principal investigator with the Healthy Minds Network, a research organization focused on the mental health of adolescents and young adults.

“And then for many adolescents and young adults, the transition to college comes with newfound autonomy. They may be experiencing the first signs and symptoms of mental health problems while now in this new level of independence that also includes new independence over their decision-making as it relates to mental health.”

An estimated 1 in 5 adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, and young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are disproportionately affected. The share of college students reporting anxiety and depression has been growing for years, and it has only gotten worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

An analysis of federal data by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that half of young adults ages 18 to 24 have reported anxiety and depression symptoms in 2023, compared with about a third of adults overall.

Mental health in college is critically important, experts say.

It’s “predictive of pretty much every long-term outcome that we care about, including their future economic earnings, workplace productivity, their future mental health and their future physical health, as well,” Lipson said.

And the need for support is urgent. About 1 in 7 college students said that they had suicidal ideation – even more than the year prior, according to a fall 2021 survey by the Healthy Minds Network.

Isabel knew that she was struggling, but it took a while to realize the extent of her mental health challenges.

“The number one thing I struggled with was feeling overwhelmed and like I had space to even remember to eat,” she said. “People were like, ‘You don’t know how to take care of yourself.’ But no – I had five papers due, and assignments, and I also had to work and go to [class] on top of that. And then I also had to find time to sleep. Most of the time, I was chugging an energy drink. And God forbid if you have a social life.”

For Isabel, as with many college students, thinking about or deciding to leave a degree program because of mental health challenges can often bring its own set of negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear and grief.

“For a lot of students, this isn’t what they saw their life looking like. This isn’t the timeline that they had for themselves,” said Julie Wolfson, director of outreach and research for the College ReEntry program at Fountain House, a nonprofit organization that works to support people with mental illness.

“They see their friends continuing on and becoming juniors and seniors, graduating and getting their first job. But they feel stuck and like they’re watching their life plan slipping away.”

It can create a sort of “shame spiral,” Lipson said.

But mental health professionals stress the importance of prioritizing personal needs over the status quo.

“There’s no shame in taking some time off,” said Marcus Hotaling, a psychologist at Union College and president of the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors.

“Take a semester. Take a year. Get yourself better – whether it be through therapy or medication – and come back stronger, a better student, more focused and, more importantly, healthier.”

They also encourage higher education institutions to help ease this pressure by creating policies that simplify the process to return.

“When a student is trying to do the best thing for themselves, that should be celebrated and promoted. For a school to then put up a ton of barriers for them to come back, it makes students not want to seek help,” Wolfson said.

“I would hope that in the future, there could be policies and systems that are more welcoming to students who are trying to take care of themselves.”

Appropriately managing mental health is different for each person, and experts say a break from school isn’t the best solution for everyone.

Tracking progress through self-assessments of symptoms and gauges of functioning, like class attendance and keeping up with assignments, can help make that call, said Ryan Patel, chair of the American College Health Association’s mental health section and senior staff psychiatrist at The Ohio State University.

“If we’re making progress and you’re getting better, then it could make sense to think about continuing school,” he said. “But if you’re doing everything you can in your day-to-day life to improve your mental health and we’re not making progress, or things are getting worse despite best efforts, that’s where the differentiating point occurs, in my mind.”

Understanding the support system a student would have if they return home, including access to resources and treatment providers, is also a factor, he said.

For a while, experts say, it was a challenge to articulate the problem and build the case for broader attention to the mental health of college students. Now, the mental health of students is consistently cited as the most pressing issue among college presidents, according to a survey by the American Council on Education.

As the need for services increases, however, college counseling centers are struggling to meet demand – and the shortage of mental health professionals doesn’t stop at the edge of campus.

But colleges are uniquely positioned to surround students with a close network of support, experts say. Taking advantage of that structure needs buy-in to create a broader “community of care.”

“Colleges have an educational mission, and I would make the argument that spreads to education about health and safety,” Hotaling said.

College faculty should be trained in recognizing immediate concerns or threats to a student’s safety, he said. But they should also understand that students can face a range of mental health challenges and know the appropriate resource to direct them to.

Isabel recently graduated from Fountain House’s College ReEntry program and is back at school – this time at university that’s a little closer to home, one that a close friend from high school also attends. It helps her to know that she has a strong friend group to support her and an academic program that supports her professional goals – to become an art curator.

Things are still challenging this time around, but she says she feels like she now has the right tools to cope.

“This foundation I am building is constantly in need of maintenance. There’s like a crack every day,” she said. “Back when I was trying to figure everything out, I feel like I was looking for a screwdriver when I needed a hammer. Now, it’s not that I know I can handle it – but I know that I have the healthy coping mechanisms and strategies and people to help. That gave me confidence and stamina to do it again.”

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Only 5.7% of US doctors are Black, and experts warn the shortage harms public health | CNN



CNN
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When being truly honest with herself, Seun Adebagbo says, she can describe what drove her to go to medical school in a single word: self-preservation.

Adebagbo, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Boston, said that as a child, she often saw tensions between certain aspects of Western medicine and beliefs within Nigerian culture. She yearned to have the expertise to bridge those worlds and help translate medical information while combating misinformation – for her loved ones and for herself.

“I wanted to go into medicine because I felt like, ‘Who better to mediate that tension than someone like me, who knows what it’s like to exist in both?’ ” said Adebagbo, 26, who graduated from Stanford University and is now a third-year medical school student in Massachusetts.

“The deeper I got into my medical education, the more I realized, if I’m in the system, I know how it works. I not only know the science, but I also know how the system works,” she said of how in many Black and brown communities, there can be limited access to care and resources within the medical system.

This has enabled Adebagbo to connect with patients of color in her rotations. She recognizes that their encounters with her are brief, she said, and so she tries to empower them to advocate for themselves in the health system.

“I know what to ask for on the patient side if I’m worried about something for myself. But then also, for my parents and my family,” Adebagbo said. “Because the way you have to move in the system as a Black person is very different, especially if you’re coming from a background where you don’t have family members that are doctors, you don’t know anyone in your periphery that went into medicine.”

Seun Adebagbo presenting her poster presentation as a first author at an international symposium and annual meeting of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Only about 5.7% of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American, according to the the latest data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. This statistic does not reflect the communities they serve, as an estimated 12% of the US population is Black or African American.

And while the proportion of Black physicians in the US has risen over the past 120 years, some research shows, it’s still extremely low.

One reason why the percentage of US doctors who are Black remains far below that of the US population that is Black can be traced to how Black people have been “historically excluded from medicine” and the “institutional and systemic racism in our society,” said Michael Dill, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ director of workforce studies.

“And it occurs over the course of what I think of as the trajectory to becoming a physician,” Dill said. At young ages, exposure to the sciences, science education resources, mentors and role models all make it more likely that a child could become a doctor – but such exposures and resources sometimes are disproportionately not as accessible in the Black community.

“We can improve our admissions to medical school, make them more holistic, try to remove bias from that, but that’s still not going to solve the problem,” Dill said.

“We need to look at which schools produce the most medical students and figure out how we improve the representation of Black students in those schools,” he said. “That requires going back to pre-college – high school, middle school, elementary school, kindergarten, pre-K – we need to do better in all of those places in order to elevate the overall trajectory to becoming a physician and make it more likely that we will get more Black doctors in the long run.”

Many US medical schools have a history of not admitting non-Whites. The first Black American to hold a medical degree, Dr. James McCune Smith, had to enroll at the University of Glasgow Medical School in Scotland.

Smith received his MD in 1837, returned to New York City and went on to become the first Black person to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States, and to be published in US medical journals.

A few decades later, in 1900, 1.3% of physicians were Black, compared with 11.6% of the US population, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2021.

Around that time, seven medical schools were established specifically for Black students between 1868 and 1904, according to Duke University’s Medical Center Library & Archives. But by 1923, only two of those schools remained: Howard University Medical School in Washington and Meharry Medical School in Nashville.

In 1940, only 2.8% of physicians were Black, but 9.7% of the US population was Black; by 2018, 5.4% of physicians were Black, but 12.8% of the population was Black.

“The more surprising thing to me was for Black men,” said Dr. Dan Ly, an author of the study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Data on only Black men who were physicians over the years showed that they represented 1.3% of the physician workforce in 1900, “because all physicians were pretty much men in the past,” Ly said. Black men represented 2.7% of the physician workforce in 1940 and 2.6% in 2018.

“That’s 80 years of no improvement,” Ly said. “So the increase in the percent of physicians who were Black over the past 80 years has been the entrance of Black women in the physician workforce.”

Over more than four decades between 1978 and 2019, the proportion of medical school enrollees who identify as Black, Hispanic or members of other underrepresented groups has stayed “well below” the proportions that each group represented in the general US population, according to a 2021 report in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Diversity in some medical schools also was affected in states with bans on affirmative action programs, according to a study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine. That study included data on 21 public medical schools across eight states with affirmative action bans from 1985 to 2019: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington.

The study found that the percentage of enrolled students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups was on average about 15% in the year before the bans were implemented but fell more than a third by five years after the bans.

Now, the United States is reckoning with medicine’s history of racism.

In 2008, the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest organization of physicians, issued an apology for its history of discriminatory policies toward Black doctors, including those that effectively restricted the association’s membership to Whites. In 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism a “serious public health threat.”

One encouraging datapoint says that the number of Black or African American first-year medical school students increased 21% between the academic years of 2020 and 2021, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which Dill said shows promise for the future.

“Does the fact that it’s higher in medical school mean that eventually we will have a higher percentage of physicians who are Black? The answer is yes,” he said.

“We will see the change occur slowly over time,” he said. “So, that means the percentage of the youngest physicians that are Black will grow appreciably, but the percentage of all physicians who are Black will rise much more slowly, since new physicians are only a small percentage of the entire workforce.”

But some medical school students could leave their career track along the way. A paper published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among a cohort of more than 33,000 students, those who identified as an underrepresented race or ethnicity in medicine – such as Black or Hispanic – were more likely to withdraw from or be forced out of school.

Among White students, 2.3% left medical school in the academic years of 2014-15 and 2015-16, compared with 5.2% of Hispanic students, 5.7% of Black students and 11% of American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students, the study found.

The researchers wrote in the study that “the findings highlight a need to retain students from marginalized groups in medical school.”

During her surgical rotation in medical school, Adebagbo said, she saw no Black surgeons at the hospital. While having more physicians and faculty of color in mentorship roles can help retain young Black medical school students like herself, she calls on non-Black doctors and faculty to create a positive, clinical learning environment, giving the same support and feedback to Black students as they may provide to non-Black students – which she argues will make a difference.

“Despite the discomfort that may arise on the giver of feedback’s side, it’s necessary for the growth and development of students. You’re hurting that student from becoming a better student on that rotation, not giving them that situational awareness that they need,” she said. “That’s what ends up happening with students of color. No one tells them, and it seems as if it’s a pattern, then by the end of the rotation, it becomes, ‘Well, you’ve made so many mistakes, so we should just dismiss you [for resident trainees] or we can’t give you honors or high pass [for medical students].’ “

Seun Adebagbo, right, with the site director (second from left) and two peers on her last day of her surgery rotation.

Adebagbo says she had one site director, a White male physician, during her surgery rotation who genuinely cared, listened and wanted to see her grow as a person and physician.

“He has been the first site director who has legit listened to me, my experiences navigating third year as a Black woman and tried to understand and put it in perspective – a privilege I’m not afforded often,” Adebagbo said. “He made making mistakes, growing and learning from them a safe and non-traumatizing experience. Not everyone may understand the depths of what I’m saying, but those who do will understand why I was so grateful for that experience.”

But not all attending physicians are like her “mentor,” as she calls him.

For Dr. David Howard, one question haunted his thoughts in medical school.

During those strenuous days at Johns Hopkins University, when all-night study sessions and grueling examinations were the norm, his mind whispered: Where do I fit?

Howard, now a 43-year-old ob/gyn in New Jersey, reflects with pride – and candor – on the day in 2009 when he completed his doctoral degrees, becoming both an MD and a PhD.

At the time, “I felt like I didn’t fit,” Howard said. “I’m sure I’m not the only person who has thought those thoughts.”

Howard was one of very few men in the obstetrics and gynecology specialty, where most providers were women – and he is Black. He saw very few peers who looked like him and extremely few faculty in leadership positions who looked like him.

“When you’re going through a really difficult training program, it makes a big difference if there are people like you in the leadership positions,” he said, adding that this contributes to the disproportionate number of Black medical school students and residents who decide to leave the profession or are “not treated equally” when they may make a mistake.

Early on in his career, Howard shifted his thinking from “Where do I fit?” to “How do I fit?”

He even authored a paper in 2017, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, about this self-reflection.

“Only slightly different semantically, the second question shifts focus away from the ‘where’ that implies an existing location. Instead, ‘how’ requires me to illustrate my relationship with existing labels and systems, rather than within them, allowing a multitude of answers to my question of ‘how do I fit?’ ” Howard wrote.

“Despite the challenges and realities of the medical field today, I fit wherever and however I can, actively shaping my space and resisting the assumptions that first prompted me to ask where I fit,” he said. “To finally answer my question: I don’t fit, but I am here anyway.”

The United States has made “some progress” with diversity in both clinical medicine and research – but diversity in medicine is still not at the point where it needs to be, said Dr. Dan Barouch, a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who has been an advocate for diversity and inclusion.

That point, essentially, would be where diversity in the physician workforce reflects the diversity in their patient population.

“It’s particularly important to have a diverse physician workforce to aptly serve the patients,” Barouch said. “We want to increase diversity in academia as well, but it’s particularly important for doctors, because having a diverse workforce is critical for the best patient encounters, and to build trust.”

Service to patients and patient trust are both among the cornerstones critical to the status of public health, according to researchers.

One example of broken trust between physicians and Black patients happened in the 1930s, when the US Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute launched an unethical study in which researchers let syphilis progress in Black men without treating them for the disease. The study ended in 1972.

Among Black men, “there were declines in health utilization, increases in medical mistrust and subsequent increases in mortality for about the 10- to 15-year period following the disclosure event,” when the true nature of the study was exposed in 1972, said Dr. Marcella Alsan, an infectious disease physician and professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Yet research suggests that when Black physicians are treating Black patients, that trust can be rebuilt.

For instance, the impact is so significant that having Black physicians care for Black patients could shrink the difference in cardiovascular deaths among White versus Black patients by 19%, according to a paper written by Alsan while she was attending Stanford University, along with colleagues Dr. Owen Garrick and Grant Graziani. It was published in 2019 in the American Economic Review.

That research was conducted in the fall and winter of 2017 and 2018 in Oakland, California, where 637 Black men were randomly assigned to visit either a Black or a non-Black male doctor. The visits included discussions and evaluations of blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels and diabetes, as well as flu vaccinations.

The researchers found that, when the patients and doctors had the opportunity to meet in person, the patients assigned to a Black doctor were more likely to demand preventive health care services, especially services that were invasive, such as flu shots or diabetes screenings that involve drawing blood.

“We saw a dramatic increase in their likelihood of getting preventive care when they engage with Black physicians,” said Garrick, who now serves as chief medical officer of CVS Health’s clinical trial services, working to raise awareness of how more diverse groups of patients are needed to participate in clinical research.

Initially, “it didn’t look like there was a strong preference for Black doctors versus non-Black doctors. It was only when people actually had a chance to communicate with their physicians, talk about ‘Why should I be getting these preventative care services?’ ” Alsan said.

The researchers analyzed their findings to estimate that if Black men were more likely to undergo preventive health measures when they see a Black doctor, having more Black doctors could significantly improve the health and life expectancy of Black Americans.

The nation’s shortage of Black physicians is concerning, experts warn, as it contributes to some of the disproportionate effects that infectious diseases, chronic diseases and other medical ailments have on communities of color. This in itself poses public health risks.

For example, in the United States, Black newborns die at three times the rate of White newborns, but a study published in 2020 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Black infants are more likely to survive if they are being treated by a Black physician.

Black men and Black women are also about six to 14.5 times as likely to die of HIV than White men and White women, partly due to having less access to effective antiretroviral therapies. But Black people with HIV got such therapies significantly later when they saw White providers, compared with Black patients who saw Black providers and White patients who saw White providers in a study published in 2004 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

And when Black patients receive care from Black doctors, those visits tend to be longer and have higher ratings of patients feeling satisfied, according to a separate study of more than 200 adults seeing 31 physicians, published in 2003 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

“There’s plenty of evidence, and other research has shown that the more the workforce in a health care setting really reflects the community it serves, the more open the patient population is to recommendations and instructions from their doctor,” said Dr. Mahshid Abir, an emergency physician and a senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corp., a nonpartisan research institution.

But it can be rare to find health systems in which the diversity of the workforce reflects the diversity of the patients.

During her 15-year career as an emergency physician, Abir said, she has worked in many emergency departments across the United States – in the Northeast, South and Midwest – and in each place, the diversity of the health care workforce did not mirror the patient populations.

This lack of diversity in medicine is “not talked about enough,” Abir said.

“The research that’s been conducted has shown that it makes a difference in how well patients do, how healthy they are, how long they live,” she said. “Especially at this juncture in history in the United States, where social justice is in the forefront, this is one of the most actionable places where we can make a difference.”

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Paging Dr. AI? What ChatGPT and artificial intelligence could mean for the future of medicine | CNN



CNN
 — 

Without cracking a single textbook, without spending a day in medical school, the co-author of a preprint study correctly answered enough practice questions that it would have passed the real US Medical Licensing Examination.

But the test-taker wasn’t a member of Mensa or a medical savant; it was the artificial intelligence ChatGPT.

The tool, which was created to answer user questions in a conversational manner, has generated so much buzz that doctors and scientists are trying to determine what its limitations are – and what it could do for health and medicine.

ChatGPT, or Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is a natural language-processing tool driven by artificial intelligence.

The technology, created by San Francisco-based OpenAI and launched in November, is not like a well-spoken search engine. It isn’t even connected to the internet. Rather, a human programmer feeds it a vast amount of online data that’s kept on a server.

It can answer questions even if it has never seen a particular sequence of words before, because ChatGPT’s algorithm is trained to predict what word will come up in a sentence based on the context of what comes before it. It draws on knowledge stored on its server to generate its response.

ChatGPT can also answer followup questions, admit mistakes and reject inappropriate questions, the company says. It’s free to try while its makers are testing it.

Artificial intelligence programs have been around for a while, but this one generated so much interest that medical practices, professional associations and medical journals have created task forces to see how it might be useful and to understand what limitations and ethical concerns it may bring.

Dr. Victor Tseng’s practice, Ansible Health, has set up a task force on the issue. The pulmonologist is a medical director of the California-based group and a co-author of the study in which ChatGPT demonstrated that it could probably pass the medical licensing exam.

Tseng said his colleagues started playing around with ChatGPT last year and were intrigued when it accurately diagnosed pretend patients in hypothetical scenarios.

“We were just so impressed and truly flabbergasted by the eloquence and sort of fluidity of its response that we decided that we should actually bring this into our formal evaluation process and start testing it against the benchmark for medical knowledge,” he said.

That benchmark was the three-part test that US med school graduates have to pass to be licensed to practice medicine. It’s generally considered one of the toughest of any profession because it doesn’t ask straightforward questions with answers that can easily found on the internet.

The exam tests basic science and medical knowledge and case management, but it also assesses clinical reasoning, ethics, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The study team used 305 publicly available test questions from the June 2022 sample exam. None of the answers or related context was indexed on Google before January 1, 2022, so they would not be a part of the information on which ChatGPT trained. The study authors removed sample questions that had visuals and graphs, and they started a new chat session for each question they asked.

Students often spend hundreds of hours preparing, and medical schools typically give them time away from class just for that purpose. ChatGPT had to do none of that prep work.

The AI performed at or near passing for all the parts of the exam without any specialized training, showing “a high level of concordance and insight in its explanations,” the study says.

Tseng was impressed.

“There’s a lot of red herrings,” he said. “Googling or trying to even intuitively figure out with an open-book approach is very difficult. It might take hours to answer one question that way. But ChatGPT was able to give an accurate answer about 60% of the time with cogent explanations within five seconds.”

Dr. Alex Mechaber, vice president of the US Medical Licensing Examination at the National Board of Medical Examiners, said ChatGPT’s passing results didn’t surprise him.

“The input material is really largely representative of medical knowledge and the type of multiple-choice questions which AI is most likely to be successful with,” he said.

Mechaber said the board is also testing ChatGPT with the exam. The members are especially interested in the answers the technology got wrong, and they want to understand why.

“I think this technology is really exciting,” he said. “We were also pretty aware and vigilant about the risks that large language models bring in terms of the potential for misinformation, and also potentially having harmful stereotypes and bias.”

He believes that there is potential with the technology.

“I think it’s going to get better and better, and we are excited and want to figure out how do we embrace it and use it in the right ways,” he said.

Already, ChatGPT has entered the discussion around research and publishing.

The results of the medical licensing exam study were even written up with the help of ChatGPT. The technology was originally listed as a co-author of the draft, but Tseng says that when the study is published, ChatGPT will not be listed as an author because it would be a distraction.

Last month, the journal Nature created guidelines that said no such program could be credited as an author because “any attribution of authorship carries with it accountability for the work, and AI tools cannot take such responsibility.”

But an article published Thursday in the journal Radiology was written almost entirely by ChatGPT. It was asked whether it could replace a human medical writer, and the program listed many of its possible uses, including writing study reports, creating documents that patients will read and translating medical information into a variety of languages.

Still, it does have some limitations.

“I think it definitely is going to help, but everything in AI needs guardrails,” said Dr. Linda Moy, the editor of Radiology and a professor of radiology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

She said ChatGPT’s article was pretty accurate, but it made up some references.

One of Moy’s other concerns is that the AI could fabricate data. It’s only as good as the information it’s fed, and with so much inaccurate information available online about things like Covid-19 vaccines, it could use that to generate inaccurate results.

Moy’s colleague Artie Shen, a graduating Ph.D. candidate at NYU’s Center for Data Science, is exploring ChatGPT’s potential as a kind of translator for other AI programs for medical imaging analysis. For years, scientists have studied AI programs from startups and larger operations, like Google, that can recognize complex patterns in imaging data. The hope is that these could provide quantitative assessments that could potentially uncover diseases, possibly more effectively than the human eye.

“AI can give you a very accurate diagnosis, but they will never tell you how they reach this diagnosis,” Shen said. He believes that ChatGPT could work with the other programs to capture its rationale and observations.

“If they can talk, it has the potential to enable those systems to convey their knowledge in the same way as an experienced radiologist,” he said.

Tseng said he ultimately thinks ChatGPT can enhance medical practice in much the same way online medical information has both empowered patients and forced doctors to become better communicators, because they now have to provide insight around what patients read online.

ChatGPT won’t replace doctors. Tseng’s group will continue to test it to learn why it creates certain errors and what other ethical parameters need to be put in place before using it for real. But Tseng thinks it could make the medical profession more accessible. For example, a doctor could ask ChatGPT to simplify complicated medical jargon into language that someone with a seventh-grade education could understand.

“AI is here. The doors are open,” Tseng said. “My fundamental hope is, it will actually make me and make us as physicians and providers better.”

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Pathological lying could finally be getting attention as a mental disorder | CNN



CNN
 — 

When Timothy Levine set out to write a book about deception in 2016, he wanted to include a chapter on one of its most extreme forms: pathological lying.

“I just couldn’t find any good research base on this,” said Levine, chair of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Now, it seems it’s the only thing anyone wants to talk to him about.

“Santos has brought more reporters to me in the last couple of weeks than probably in the last year,” Levine said.

Santos, of course, is US Rep. George Santos, a Republican from Long Island who was recently elected to represent New York’s third congressional district.

In the months since his election, key claims from Santos’ biography – including where he earned his college degree, his employment at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, an animal rescue group he says he founded and his Jewish religious affiliation – have withered under the scrutiny of reporters and fact-checkers. Now, he says, he doesn’t have a college degree; he wasn’t employed by Citigroup or Goldman Sachs; and the IRS has no record of his animal rescue group. He also says he never claimed to be Jewish, but rather he was “Jew-ish.”

Santos defended himself in media interviews in December, saying that the discrepancies were the result of résumé padding and poor word choices but that he was not a criminal or a fraud.

It’s not clear what is driving Santos’ statements.

But the story has given professionals who study lying in its most extreme forms a rare moment to raise awareness about lying as a mental disorder – one they say has been largely neglected by doctors and therapists.

“It is rare to find a public figure who lies so frequently in such verifiable ways,” says Christian Hart, a psychologist who directs the Human Deception Laboratory at Texas Woman’s University.

Psychiatrists have recognized pathological lying as a mental affliction since the late 1800s, yet experts say it has never been given serious attention, funding or real study. It doesn’t have its own diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the bible of psychiatry. Instead, it is recognized as a feature of other diagnoses, like personality disorders.

As a result, there’s no evidence-based way to treat it, even though many pathological liars say they want help to stop.

The standard approach to treating lying relies on techniques borrowed from cognitive behavioral therapy, which emphasizes understanding and changing thinking patterns. But no one is sure that this is the most effective way to help.

We don’t know necessarily what’s the most effective treatment,” said Drew Curtis, an associate professor of psychology at Angelo State University in Texas who studies pathological lying.

Curtis had someone offer to drive across the country to see him for treatment, which he says he wasn’t able to offer.

“So that’s the heartbreaking side of it for me, as a clinician: people that are wanting to help and can’t have the help,” Curtis said.

Longtime collaborators Curtis and Hart recently published a study laying out evidence to support the inclusion of pathological lying as a standalone diagnosis in the DSM.

Over the years, Hart said, almost 20 people have proposed definitions of pathological lying, but there’s very little overlap between them: “The only truly common feature is that these people lie a lot.”

The first thing to know about pathological or compulsive lying is that it is rare, Levine says. His studies show that most people tell the truth most of the time.

“These really prolific liars are pretty unusual,” said Levine, whose book about deception, “Duped,” was published in 2019.

Which isn’t to say that lying isn’t common. Most people lie sometimes, even daily. In his studies, people lied up to twice a day, on average.

Levine himself regularly lies at the grocery store when workers ask whether he found everything he was looking for. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, that answer is almost always no, but he says yes anyway.

One of his students worked in a retail clothing store and regularly lied to people who were trying on clothes. Another – a receptionist – lied to cover for a doctor who was always running late.

That’s all pretty normal, Levine said. He believes that honesty is our default mode of communication simply because people have to be honest with each other to work effectively in big groups, something humans do uniquely well in the animal kingdom.

But sticking to the facts isn’t easy for everyone.

In their studies, Hart and Curtis have found that most people tell an average of about one lie a day. That’s pretty normal. Then there are people who lie a lot: about 10 lies a day, on average.

Hart and Curtis call prolific or especially consequential liars – someone like Bernie Madoff, who dupes and defrauds investors, for example – “Big Liars,” which is also the title of their recent book.

Big lying is pretty unusual. Pathological lying is even more rare than that.

Hart thinks he’s only ever interacted with two people that met the classical case study description of pathological lying.

“It was dizzying,” Hart says.

When people start to lie so much that they can’t stop or that it begins to hurt them or people around them, that’s when it becomes abnormal and may need treatment.

“It’s more the clinical category of people who tell excessive amounts of lies that impairs their functioning, causes distress, and poses some risk to themselves or others,” Curtis said, sharing the working definition of pathological lying that he and Hart hope will eventually be included in the DSM.

“What we found, examining all the cases, is that the lying appears to be somewhat compulsive,” Hart said. “That is, they’re lying in situations when a reasonable person probably wouldn’t lie, and it seems like even to their own detriment in many cases.

“It tends to cause dysfunction in their lives,” Hart said, including social, relationship and employment problems.

On some level, pathological liars know they’re lying. When confronted with their lies, they’ll typically admit to their dishonesty.

Lying can also be a feature of other disorders, but Hart says that when they assessed people who met the criteria for pathological lying, they found something interesting.

“It turned out that the majority of them don’t have another psychological disorder. And so it seems like lying is their principal problem,” he said, lending weight to the idea that it deserves to be its own diagnosis.

The American Psychiatric Association, or APA, publishes the DSM and regularly reviews proposals for new diagnoses. Curtis says he has been gathering evidence and is in the process of filling out the paperwork the APA requires to consider whether pathological lying should be a new diagnosis.

As for whether certain professions seem to attract people who lie more than average, Hart says that’s a complicated question.

It’s not that people who lie a lot tend to gravitate to certain jobs. Rather, certain jobs – like sales, for example – probably reward the ability to lie smoothly, and so these professions may be more likely to have a higher concentration of people who lie more than average.

“The evidence we have suggests that politicians aren’t by their nature any more dishonest than the typical person,” Hart said. “However, when people go into politics, there’s pretty good evidence that the most successful politicians are the ones that are more willing to bend the truth” and so they may be the ones more likely to be re-elected.

Only time will tell, how the situation may play out for Santos.

So far, he has resisted calls to step down, saying he intends to serve his term in Congress. This week, though, Santos announced he would step down from any committee assignments while the investigations are ongoing.

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