Paving the Road to 100: A Legacy of Educational Excellence


More than 40 years ago, the founders of Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) saw a need. In 1970, only two percent of the physicians in the state of Georgia were African American, and the percentage of black first-year medical students statewide was five percent. Decades later, not much has changed. Just 4.1 percent of doctors in the U.S. were African American in 2013, according to the American Medical Association. In the 2015-16 academic year, of all students enrolled in medical school, only 6.5 percent were African American, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports. The state of Georgia is on the verge of a crisis due to a drought of physicians, according to a 2008 study commissioned by the Medical College of Georgia. “Without changes in the state’s medical education system, Georgia will rank last in the United States in physicians per capita by 2020,” states the report.

A historical lack of minority doctors and physicians serving underserved populations is one reason MSM started down the Road to 100—a lofty goal to increase the number of students enrolled in the M.D. degree-granting program. This summer, the school will welcome its first M.D. class of 100 students. MSM is also increasing enrollment in other programs by 20 percent by 2020.

“For over 40 years, Morehouse School of Medicine has successfully met its core mission of leading the creation and advancement of health equity,” said MSM President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D. “By expanding our class size to 100 M.D. students, we are able to take advantage of an unmet opportunity and to recruit and train even more physicians to potentially serve underrepresented communities.”

“Although it was almost 40 years ago. I still recall the excitement in the air, in the fall of 1978, when the charter class of 24 students enrolled at this new institution, the first predominantly African-American medical school founded in the 20th century,” recalled MSM’s first president and dean, Louis W. Sullivan, M.D.

Back then, MSM was a two-year medical program first known as the Medical Education Program at Morehouse College. The launch of the new program made obtaining medical degrees more accessible for many who had long dreamed of become a doctor. People like Bessie Chapman Jones, M.D.

Dr. Jones, a native of Macon, Georgia, enrolled in one of the first classes in the summer of 1980. She was 44 years old, married, and had raised her children, but it was a dream she’d held on to for a long time.

“I had always wanted to go, but I didn’t have a real choice when I first graduated from Talladega College,” said Jones. “I had just given up even trying. But when the school opened, I just decided to take the MCAT and apply. Nobody was more surprised than I was.”

After graduating from MSM in 1982, Jones went on to complete her M.D. at Emory University. She then returned to MSM to complete her residency and became the first graduate of the Community Medicine Program in 1987. Jones then stayed close by as she practiced medicine with the DeKalb County Board of Health in DeKalb County, Georgia.

Jones, a staunch MSM donor and supporter, has helped recruit new students by serving on the admissions committee for nearly 20 years.

Today, Morehouse School of Medicine still strives to attract students from Georgia and encourages them to practice in the state upon graduation. MSM is also working to educate future health scientists about opportunities in medicine long before it is time for them to apply to medical school. Through its various Pipeline Programs, MSM reaches students as young as 10 through the STEAM Academy, lets high school students gain hands-on experience through the Community Health Worker Training Program and the Atlanta Sickle Cell Summer Research Program, helps undergraduates prepare for medical school through Academically Prepared for Excellence (APEX), and more.

“Morehouse School of Medicine has grown significantly. Research institutes have been organized in the neurosciences, cardiovascular diseases, public health and graduate studies, ensuring a stimulating learning environment for all,” said Dr. Sullivan. “The phenomenal growth of Morehouse School of Medicine has been possible because of this sound academic foundation formed at the beginning.”

We will continue to follow the Class of 2021 and the Road to 100. In part 2, we will take a look at the students who make up this group and explore how MSM will impact medical education and primary care in the state of Georgia and underserved communities.