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Surgeon General Bemoans Lack Of Hispanics

February 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Thursday bemoaned a lack of Hispanics in medicine and science and said that affirmative action alone would not necessarily correct the problem.

``If Hispanic, black and other minority children see Hispanic, black and other minority doctors, they will be more likely to see the profession as an option for them,'' Carmona told the National Hispanic Medical Association. ``Not just doctors either, any health profession,'' he said.

After the speech, Carmona declined to say precisely whether he supports the stand that President Bush has taken on affirmative action.

Bush has said that he supports diversity in education, but has filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing an affirmative action admissions program at the University of Michigan.

``What I support is, we need to actively encourage more students to become scientifically literate, mathematically literate,'' Carmona said. He said 35 percent of (Hispanic) students drop out of high school and thus ``have no chance to make that transition.''

``Affirmative action is meaningless if you don't have children that are prepared, with it or without it. The issue I'm addressing here is, our children need to be educated,'' he said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's admissions polices, along with hundreds of other groups and professional organizations.

The association, which represents 126 medical schools, argues in the brief that all medical schools take ethnicity into consideration in the admissions process. If schools ignored race, the percent of students from underrepresented minority groups in medical schools would fall from 11 percent to no more than 3 percent, the organization said in a news release about the brief.

Carmona, a high school dropout, said he was able to become a doctor with the help of an individual who took him off the streets, noting that he subsequently enlisted in the Army.

Carmona, who was born in New York and whose family is from Puerto Rico, said he has encouraged diversity in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, an organization consisting of federal public health care professionals. About a third of the people in the corps are ethnic minorities, he said.

In emphasizing the importance of a diverse work force, Carmona told the audience about his ``abuelita,'' Spanish for grandmother, for whom he said a doctor was a last resort. Instead, she used herbs and prayed, he said. But Carmona said it is important for health care professionals to know about such cultural traditions.

``We are such a diverse country,'' he said. ``That gives us our strength, yet we push it aside at times and ignore it as if we are all one and the solutions sometimes come forward as one size fits all, which we obviously know is not the case.''

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