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Dynamic Chiropractic – February 12, 2010, Vol. 28, Issue 04

Gaining Ground in Minority Recruitment But Are We Doing Enough?

By Guy Riekeman, DC, President, Life University

Certainly the face of chiropractic has grown more diverse over the past decade; ethnic minority enrollment has risen 3 percent in that time and women now comprise close to half the students on some campuses.

However, progress is slow and often leaves us wondering, "Are we doing enough?"

Statistics 101

The number of women applying to medical colleges today typically outnumbers men and minority enrollment is growing steadily, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Yet chiropractic remains overwhelmingly white and many of our colleges still hover around just one-third female enrollment.

Our progress has often seemed to drag at a time when female college enrollment in general has gone through the roof, rising almost 30 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Graduate enrollment also rose a phenomenal 67 percent between 1985 and 2007 and first-professional enrollment increased 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, with women now earning the same number of first-professional and doctoral degrees as men.

So many new students have come into the pipeline, and yet there seems to be a leak in the conduit funneling minority and female students into chiropractic. With African Americans and Hispanics reflecting nearly one-third of the American population, in a year 2000 study they still represented barely 5 percent of the chiropractic profession.

What's at Issue?

Of course, knowing we face a challenge and knowing the best way to address it are two different things. Even if we acknowledge that more work is needed to recruit minorities and women into chiropractic, what should we work on first?

Some of the most illuminating work on the subject comes from Palmer's Alana Callender in "Recruiting Underrepresented Minorities to Chiropractic Colleges," published in 2006 in the Journal of Chiropractic Education. Callender surveyed directors of admissions at 16 of 17 U.S. chiropractic colleges in 2005 to identify minority recruitment efforts underway and their success. Nine of the reporting institutions said they did not have any programs in place specifically to recruit minority students.

Of the seven institutions with programs, five were working with historically black colleges and universities, sending representatives to career fairs and classrooms and building relationships with faculty through personal contact and articulation agreements. Only three had student chapters of the American Black Chiropractic Association (ABCA). One of Callender's most compelling findings, however, is that formal programming and infrastructure to reach underserved populations, although important, typically has far less impact than role models within the community.

Chicken and Egg?

Because today's students are just as likely to cite the same reasons for becoming a chiropractor as their great grandparents - role models among their family and friends, and a personal or family experience with chiropractic care - creating those role models and providing individual experiences with chiropractic and chiropractors among minorities are critical to creating a more diverse profession. The task before us then becomes finding ways to increase exposure to and understanding of chiropractic among minorities to begin with. And that, interestingly, dovetails precisely with what the profession as a whole needs: to increase the visibility and understanding of our profession among all members of the population.

The Tipping Point

I don't know how close we are to the tipping point at which a critical mass of minority chiropractors will be in place to serve as the role models prospective students need to ignite their interest in the profession. But I do know the more effort we put into it, the more quickly we'll get there. Some of the things we've seen work in at least small applications in various institutions and in other professions include:

  • Reaching out extensively to communities, public schools and colleges that prepare minority students to search for and help develop chiropractic school applicants.

  • Identifying top performers in high schools and developing high school and prerequisite completion programs that help capable students get the prereqs and support they need to tackle and succeed in a DC program. The number of biological and physical science degrees granted per 100,000 persons ages 20-29 for African Americans and Hispanics lags behind white students by more than three to one.

  • Actively nurturing student chapters of the American Black Chiropractic Association on campuses, and even in large minority communities without local chiropractic colleges.

  • Developing transition and support programs for minority and international students once they come to campus.

  • Utilizing bilingual recruiters.

  • Supporting minority practitioners currently within the profession to help them reach out as effectively as possible to minority students. At the same time, developing non-minority role models who can reach out to minority students.

  • Encouraging our state and national professional associations and the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress to highlight diversity and non-white practitioners in their messages to the field and to the public.

On the Life University campus, for example, we have dedicated recruiting and enrollment specialists who reach out specifically to African American, Latin and Native American populations, and we're seeing results. Our minority enrollment has doubled in the past 10 years, climbing from 12 percent to 24 percent of our total student population. Enrollment of women on our campus has also grown 10 percent in the same time period. Our Latin recruiting specialist, Miguel Hastings, represented Life last year at an annual college fair in Puerto Rico and returned with 19 applications for the DC program.

In addition to on-campus clubs and resource people, we also support our minority students by connecting them to appropriate resources in Atlanta, such as local Latin, African American or Asian organizations that provide familiar touch points and information about cultural resources of particular interest. I'd also like to see us reach out to these organizations as recruiting arms as well, educating them about the benefits of our profession so they can recommend it to students in their lives.

As Jerry Hardee EdD, special assistant to the president at Life and chair of our Diversity Committee, has shared many times, there doesn't have to be a chiropractic college in a city for us to reach out via local chiropractors there to minority organizations, establish student chapters of ABCA, connect with historically black colleges and universities and provide speakers and role models who can attend meetings and events of local minority groups.

Moving Forward

I don't think there's a silver bullet, but I do believe more action is a good start. We need more connection with minority organizations in all of our cities, more interaction between our colleges and historically black colleges and universities, more outreach to minority high-school students, more support for the minority students already on our campuses, and more visibility of practitioners among minority community organizations. In the process, our profession will become far more accessible (as a health paradigm and as a career) to the many people woven together here into our diverse nation.

Dr. Guy F. Riekeman, current president of Life University in Marietta, Ga., has held leadership positions in chiropractic education essentially since his graduation from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1972. He was appointed vice president of Sherman College in 1975 and has served as president of all three Palmer campuses and as chancellor of the Palmer Chiropractic University System. In 2006, he was elected to the board of directors of the Council on Chiropractic Education.

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