American Heart Association Launches HBCU Scholars Program Focused on Increasing Diversity in Cardiovascular Research

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently launched its Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Scholars program in New Orleans, with a special dinner recognizing the 2019-2020 inaugural class of scholars and mentors. 

Designed to support the development of minority scientists and healthcare professionals, the regional program pairs a student with a local American Heart Association connected researcher to understand the impact of cardiovascular disease in the community, learn the factors affecting the health of vulnerable populations, and sample areas of scientific inquiry. New Orleans’ inaugural class will include four Dillard and Xavier University students. 

“We are excited to share what we do every day with scholars that otherwise may never have been exposed to scientific research,” said Dr. Sarah Lindsey, associate professor in pharmacology at Tulane School of Medicine and a HBCU mentor. “We hope that this program inspires them to tell their communities about healthy lifestyles as well as the importance of science.”

Historically black colleges and universities graduate the largest numbers of African American scholars in the field of medicine. More than 70% of African American medical professionals earn degrees from these institutions, but the numbers of students studying biological sciences has been declining. In 1978, there were 1,410 black male applicants to medical school, compared with 1,337 in 2014. Currently, only three percent of professionals working in the biological and medical sciences are African American.

“The American Heart Association understands diversity is key in solving the treatment and prevention issues that impact cardiovascular health,” said Brittany Gay, executive director, American Heart Association of Greater New Orleans. “Ensuring diversity in the pool of students pursuing science and healthcare is vital. We are proud to have this opportunity to elevate these four amazing students, thankful to their mentors, and look forward to seeing what they do with their future careers as they learn and grow in our community.”

Along with contributing diverse perspectives to science investigation, minority doctors, nurses, and researchers enhance health treatment for individuals of color and help close significant health disparities. Underserved minorities who become medical professionals are also more likely to return to practice in their communities where cultural sensitivity can create trust and improve outcomes. Greater access to care for low-income, multicultural and non-English speaking patients is also often associated with physician diversity. 

With the Dillard and Xavier students, there are a total of 26 scholars in the program across the region.  Other schools include Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Jackson State University, Tougaloo College, Fisk University, Tennessee State, Miles College, Lawson State Community College, Stillman College, and Shelton State Community College.

The scholars include, left to right, Morgan Jackson (Xavier), Delilah Davis (Dillard), Janee Knox (Dillard), and Brianna Allen (Xavier).