CUNY School Of Medicine Far Outpaces Nationwide Progress In Enrollment Of Racial, Ethnic Minorities

Student Population Reflects Diversity of Communities It Seeks to Serve

At a time when medical schools across the country are struggling to increase their enrollment of racial and ethnic minorities, the two-year-old City University of New York School of Medicine is already among the nation’s most diverse – a distinction closely tied to its unique social mission to increase quality health care for underserved communities.

A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that diversity numbers at medical schools are rising, but at a pace so slow that it could take decades for the field to begin mirroring the demographics of the country. By contrast, CUNY’s is the rare medical school whose student population today approaches the demographic diversity of the communities it seeks to serve.

  • A majority of the students in the CUNY School of Medicine – 53 percent – are members of underrepresented minority groups. That’s the antithesis of the nation’s medical schools as a whole, which remain 59 percent white.
  • Black students represent the largest share, accounting for 35 percent of the CUNY medical school’s student body– five times the national percentage, according to data released this month by the Association of American Medical Colleges. The organization last year cited the CUNY School of Medicine as one of the top five medical schools in the country for recruitment of black and African-American students, exceeded only by the four historically black medical schools.
  • Another 18 percent of CUNY’s medical students are Hispanic– twice the percentage nationally.
  • Along with its large representation of black and Hispanic medical students, CUNY has topped the nation in enrolling women the past two years. All told, 63 percent of CUNY’s medical students are women.
  • More than 80 percent of students of CUNY medical students are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The CUNY medical school – a seven-year program based at City College that combines undergraduate and medical degrees for about 475 students – was established in 2016 as an outgrowth of CUNY’s Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The medical school recruits top New York City high school students, many from underrepresented minority groups, for a program sharply focused on improving health care in underserved communities at a time when the need for primary care physicians nationwide is rising.

“The CUNY School of Medicine’s emergence as a national leader in diversity closely adheres to its mission of public service,” said Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz. “Like the five-year Sophie Davis program from which it grew, our medical school is uniquely committed to training physicians and other health care professionals who want to address health disparities and improve primary, community-based health care in underserved areas.”

And, like the University as a whole, the CUNY medical school is unusually diverse in terms of socioeconomic, cultural and national background.

“I don’t think you’ll find a medical school anywhere that looks like we do,” said third-year medical student Shahid Dodson, a member of the class of 2020, the School of Medicine’s first graduating class. Growing up in Brooklyn, Dodson experienced the health care disparities of poor neighborhoods firsthand. “In the community I’m from, I never had a physician, someone I could ask questions. Now when I see patients in the hospital, they’ll say, ‘You come from where I come from.’ It makes a difference. It gives me purpose.”

Prior to its elevation to a school of medicine, the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, founded in 1973, was a five-year program that integrated a three-year bachelor’s degree with the first two years of traditional medical education. Students then transferred to one of six cooperating medical schools for the final two years of clinical training, and received their medical degrees from those institutions. Now, the students complete their medical education at CUNY, spending their two years of clinical training in rotations at two partnering hospitals, St. Barnabas in the Bronx and Staten Island University Hospital, along with several clinical practices in the New York area.

“The distinctive element of this approach is that even before students start their medical curriculum they are taking courses that get them thinking about vital cultural and social issues in communities of need,” said City College President Vincent Boudreau “This approach allows us to root the school’s medical education in a real sense of mission and purpose. We talk frequently, and with pride, about CUNY as a driver of social mobility. At the CUNY School of Medicine, we’re training doctors to directly combat some of the most devastating obstacles to social mobility: negligible primary health care in underserved areas. This is especially important at a time when the number of primary care physicians is declining nationally. The need has never been greater.” ​


Gabrielle Cintron grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, the daughter of Puerto Rican and Guyanese parents. She began the program when it was the five-year Sophie Davis school. Now, she’s on track to earn her medical degree in 2020 as a member of what will be the first graduating class of the CUNY School of Medicine. Her father’s diabetes sparked her interest in medicine when she was just 8, and she began thinking about medical school as a teenager. “I grew up in a black and Hispanic neighborhood and I never saw a black or Hispanic pediatrician in my life,” she said. “This program is trying to bring in more people from underrepresented backgrounds like me. They want to fix the disparities in medicine. That message really drew me in.”

Maikel Kamel was born in Egypt and came to New York with his family when he was a year old. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School and was attracted to the CUNY medical school because of the uniqueness of its makeup and mission to bring quality health care to underserved communities. “If you take a look around at your classmates you see every race, every ethnicity,” he says. “I also liked that a lot of courses you take in your first two years as an undergrad specifically address health disparities – courses you don’t see in traditional medical schools. It filled my sense of purpose.”

Danissa Williams grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, and always liked science. But it wasn’t until her high school college counselor arranged for an interview with CUNY’s Sophie Davis program that she knew she wanted to become a doctor. “What I’ve seen and what interests me is the inadequacy of health literacy in the underserved communities where we are training,” she said. “People go by what they hear and there are a lot of misconceptions. So my personal goal is to improve people’s understanding of their conditions, what’s good for them and what’s not, so they’re not blindly following what someone tells them.”

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 24 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields.  The University comprises 25 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 275,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.