September 3, 2022

GEHA (Government Employees Health Association, Inc., pronounced G.E.H.A.) this week announced the continuation of the Barbara Sheffield Medical Scholarship fund created in 2021 at KU Endowment to address the lack of diversity in the physician workforce by providing full-tuition scholarships for Black and African American students.

In addition to eight continuing scholarships from the 2020-2021 medical school year, the program will offer three new full-tuition scholarships as part of a grant made possible by GEHA subsidiary, GEHA Holdings, Inc. These current scholarship recipients attend the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

“Research has shown that racism, discrimination and unconscious bias continue to plague the U.S. health care system and cause unequal treatment for racial and ethnic minorities that drastically impacts health outcomes,” said GEHA President & CEO Arthur A. Nizza, DSW. “GEHA is a company focused on delivering quality health coverage for our members; we believe it is vitally important to have more diversity in the medical field.”

GEHA and its subsidiary GEHA Solutions have taken action to actively address the lack of diversity in the physician workforce by establishing the Barbara Sheffield Medical Scholarship. The scholarship’s namesake, Barbara Sheffield, was the first female minority to serve on GEHA’s Board of Directors.

Sheffield’s character, determination and work ethic led her to a distinguished, barrier-breaking government career despite not fulfilling her desire to earn a college degree at the University of Kansas (KU). The cohorts of students honored with a Sheffield Scholarship were selected based on their work ethic, future goals, and commitment to helping further Barbara Sheffield’s dream of ending unconscious bias, racism, and discrimination in the health care system.

The eight 2020-2021 inaugural Sheffield Scholars, consisting of seven men and one woman, will continue their educational journey at KU School of Medicine, while the three new scholars began medical school in July 2022.

“My fellow scholarship recipients and I are in a unique position to continue building upon the foundation Barbara Sheffield began by breaking down silos to show other Black or African American students that no goal is too lofty,” said Benjamin W. Jones, a second-year medical school student. “One of my biggest hopes as a future physician and member of the Kansas City community is to inspire youth and incoming medical student cohorts to pursue science and reach for their dreams.”

In addition to the scholarship’s full tuition support, the program helps bridge the funding gap, which is a leading barrier for medical school students. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2021 Black or African American applicants constituted only 11.7% of the U.S. medical school applicant pool compared with 49.7% of white applicants.

“We are extremely grateful to GEHA for its vision in supporting physicians of tomorrow,” said Akinlolu Ojo, MD, Ph.D., MBA, Executive Dean of the KU School of Medicine. “Supporters of education like GEHA, and programs like this one, can truly make an impact on diversity in medicine.”

Despite efforts by medical schools to increase diversity among applicants, the number of Black men pursuing medicine is especially low and has remained stagnant for nearly 40 years. Black males currently make up only 1.7% of the nearly 100,000 medical students in U.S. allopathic medical schools. In 1970, 1.3% of doctors were Black males, compared to 1.4% in 2019.

“Racial and ethnic concordance between patient and physician is a critical component of patients getting the care they need from a provider they trust. The GEHA family of companies is proud to support efforts to diversify the field of medicine by investing in the pipeline of diverse physicians who will serve our members and their communities,” said Nizza.