The partnership between Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Meharry Medical College, the University of Memphis and the Church Health Center aims to produce more Black physicians and clinical experts to serve disadvantaged communities, including Orange Mound, Frayser, North Memphis and Whitehaven.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH), Meharry Medical College, University of Memphis (UofM) and Church Health Center have signed an agreement to increase the number of Black medical students from Memphis.

Through new educational strategies, the partnership will produce more Black physicians and clinical experts to serve disadvantaged communities, including Orange Mound, Frayser, North Memphis and Whitehaven in Memphis.

“African Americans in our community will have more opportunities to see physicians that look like them,” said Michael Ugwueke, MLH president and CEO.

“This plays an important role in positive healthcare outcomes for Black communities.”

No other city in the nation has witnessed such a historic, four-institution partnership of this type, according to Dr. Ugwueke.

“We will add more Black medical experts to the pool every year. By 2030, the partnership will see measurable goals reached (as African-American neighborhoods have more access to Black clinical experts).” 

Currently, only 5 percent of physicians in the nation are African American, said Ugwueke.

He asserts that finding people of color isn’t the only answer to increased wellness in the Black community. However, “there is a critical need for Black talent and providing medical experts they trust.”

The agreement (to be finalized by March 2021) offers new medical training opportunities to students of Meharry and UofM, and clinical residents of MLH.

“It’s a game-changer,” Dr. James Hildreth, the president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, said during a Zoom news conference on Monday (December 17).

“We will work together to diversify the healthcare provider pipeline and advance health care education.”

As a major research institution with more than 21,000 students, UofM will provide Black students direct access to postgraduate medical and biomedical sciences programs at Meharry. 

UofM President M. David Rudd said the partnership would “enhance our relationship with Methodist Le Bonheur, a highly respected organization in our community that has worked with and supported the U of M for years.

“It will begin a new and promising relationship with Meharry Medical College, an institution we view as one of the very best nationally in training students to effectively identify health disparities and treat patients, especially those in underserved communities.”

Research collaborations between Meharry, MLH and UofM will produce new disease treatments, disease prevention strategies and best practices in community healthcare.

To inspire interested youth at the high school and middle school levels in Memphis, the partnership will provide students information on what it takes to get admitted to medical school for a future career.

“This partnership allows MLH to expand on our commitment of providing exceptional training opportunities for the next generation of physicians, nurses and medical professionals,” said Ugwueke.

Church Health Center, the largest faith-based, privately funded healthcare organization in the U.S., will extend educational and health care services to citizens of Memphis through the partnership.

“This is a truly wonderful thing for Memphis,” said Dr. Scott Morris, head of Church Health.

“Memphis is a Black city. We ought to be fully engaged in training young Black students to become Black physicians, and by God, we’re going to do it. … It will take years to come to fruition, but at that this point, it’s not just talking. I truly believe it is going to happen.”

Meharry Medical College, one of the nation’s oldest and largest historically black academic health science centers, will use the partnership to educate increased numbers of physicians, dentists, researchers and health policy experts. 

Diabetes and new cases of HIV are three times higher in Shelby County than the states average of these diseases. Yet, in Memphis, the number of primary care physicians and specialists serving the population is lower than the state’s average.

Students who complete training through the 4-institution collaboration will be prepared to serve citizens in both urban and rural settings. 

Ugwueke foresees a better future for the health of local citizens. 

“(Currently) there’s nowhere nearly enough physicians to serve our population. The partnership will help students to stay in Memphis and serve our underserved communities.” 

(This story includes reporting by Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent. #NNPA BLACKPRESS)