A new study focused on black medical students finds that those attending historically black medical schools report a greater sense of belonging and greater confidence in their academic abilities than those attending predominantly white medical schools.

A survey administered three times during the study participants’ second year of medical school compared the responses of students attending historically black medical schools (HBCUs) with those attending predominantly white institutions ( PWI).

In addition to finding a greater sense of belonging, the study found that HBCU students reported being more confident of being accepted into one of the top 10 residences and greater stability of residence goals than those PWIs.

“Our findings suggest that black medical students in PWI schools may experience greater daily discrimination compared to their HBCU peers, leading to reduced perceptions of their ability to succeed within medical school,” said Sylvia Perry, the study’s lead researcher.

Perry is an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a principal investigator in the Social Cognition and Intergroup Processes (SCIP) Laboratory. She is also a faculty member of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern.

The study’s co-authors include Northwestern alumnus James Wages ’21, now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Central Arkansas, and corresponding author Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako of Harvard Medical School.

The study builds on Perry’s previous research using an assertiveness intervention to counter the impact of racial stressors that black medical students experience in PWI. Although the results indicated that affirmation did not close gaps in belonging, well-being, or residency competitiveness, it did reduce the residency goal stability gap.

Other previous research suggests that Black STEM students at PWIs report difficulties creating an inclusive campus climate, while HBCU students perceive STEM disciplines to be diverse and view their institutions as supportive.

Based on the new findings, the researchers recommend that PWIs take steps to increase their representation in the medical field.

“We think it’s important for predominantly white institutions to signal commitment and make efforts to increase diversity among interns and faculty,” Perry said.

“It’s not enough to increase the number of students and teachers of color,” she added. “These institutions should also focus on building a sense of belonging for underrepresented medical students by making reducing stigma and discrimination explicit priorities. Medical schools must create an environment in which all students can thrive and feel safe.

Future research will involve better understanding the environmental factors that contribute to these disparities and providing targeted intervention strategies to increase adherence among PWI medical students.

“Black medical students’ sense of belonging and confidence in their academic abilities at historically black or predominantly white medical schools: A prospective study,” published July 15 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.