Community Colleges: Partners in Physician Workforce Development

By Norma Poll-Hunter

In the spring, I submitted a proposal to present a session at a national meeting of community college administrators.  I proposed to talk about the importance of diversity in the health professions and how programs like the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), are interested in increasing community college student participation.

I learned a few months later that the proposal was not accepted. Obviously, there are no guarantees of acceptance with any conference submission, but the reason surprised me. One specific statement bothered me the most: “The primary audience consists of administrators and faculty of Allied Health and Nursing programs, whose student population is not interested in medicine and dentistry.” Not interested in medicine and dentistry? I immediately thought, “How short-sighted!”

So many questions arose. Can the conference planner really attest to the career interests of students who are just beginning their educational development? Yes, there are high workforce demands for allied health professions and nursing, and the student population may be focused on those great careers, but surely medicine and dentistry are possibilities too. Community colleges can be stepping stones for other health professions; for example, a RWJF program alumna and anesthesiologist, Dr. Karen Morris-Priester, started her educational path at a community college. I just can’t imagine that the entire “student population is not interested.”

I could not accept the rejection because I couldn’t swallow the reason.. I contacted the conference organizers again, clarifying the point of the presentation: to share information about opportunities for students. I addressed the potential misperceptions about community college students’ interest in medical and dental schools that may have led to the rejection.

Are medical schools interested in students from community colleges? Simply stated, yes! Data from the American Association of Community Colleges shows that “community colleges are the gateway to postsecondary education for many minority, low income, and first-generation postsecondary education students. Since 1985, more than half of all community college students have been women.” Because diversity is critical for the health professions, community colleges must be a partner.

Dr. Ronald D. Garcia, Director of the Center of Excellence in Diversity in Medical Education at Stanford School of Medicine, emphasizes the importance of engaging community colleges when conducting outreach for medical schools. He works actively with the San Francisco Bay Area Community College Consortium, a group of 26 community colleges, and with a leadership program that includes many community college students. Working at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in partnership with the American Dental Education Association to lead the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, I can attest to the commitment of participating schools to increasing diversity. Medical and dental schools are interested in community college students. But if community college administrators and faculty don’t know about the opportunities offered by the medical and dental education community and do not share this information with students, we face an uphill challenge to our diversity efforts.

By the way, I was notified a few weeks later that my presentation proposal was accepted. I’m looking forward not only to sharing what medical education has to offer, but to learning, as we explore how to partner for increased diversity in the health professions.

Norma Poll-Hunter is the director of Human Capital Portfolio Diversity Policy and Programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges. She can be reached at

0 thoughts on “Community Colleges: Partners in Physician Workforce Development

  1. Ms. Poll-Hunter,
    Thank you for your post. I have been on quite a few Program Planning Committees and I would not take the comment you received too literally…Sometimes the Committee may not see the “linkage” unless you lay it out specifically…so a title like “SMDEP: Pragmatic Lessons for Community College Diversity Programs” might have received second round closer scrutiny…another thought might be more of a pitch to “How can Local Community Colleges and Health Professions Schools Collaborate on Diversity”…and I’d take a look at their final program to see if there was something else on Diversity that you were competing with!
    Charlie Daschbach
    PS—Apply mext year ! Never, never, never give up!