The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has an historical commitment to raising the number of underrepresented minorities in the medical profession, dating back to our founding as a national philanthropy in 1972.
By the early 1980s, however, the Foundation's support for historically African-American Meharry Medical College in Nashville—and our funding of scholarships for needy minority students—appeared in need of a boost. Our commitment—totaling $15.5 in 1982—just wasn't addressing what was, by then, a glaringly obvious problem. That is, not enough minority students were entering medical school. In 1980, for example, African Americans accounted for close to 12 percent of the U.S. population, but just 6.6 percent of new medical students.
In 1983, the Foundation launched the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program. The program was devoted to removing the barriers standing between young minority physicians and the predominantly white academia through the awarding of four-year stipends—initially, $35,000 a year, plus up to $25,000 per year in institutional funding. Fellows were required to spend at least 70 percent of their time on basic research, regarded as the surest route to the top medical faculty positions. Each fellow also was linked with a strong mentor.
The program was designed to support four fellows annually. But the first group of applicants was so strong that the advisory committee refused to approve fewer than eight. Subsequently, the board of trustees agreed to double the level of support.
The program has grown and changed over the years. In 2003, in response to a landmark Supreme Court ruling regarding race-and ethnic-conscious admissions policies, the Foundation dropped one word from the name—minority—and added two more: Harold Amos, honoring one of the program's founders and, for several years, its national program director. Additionally, the program changed the eligibility requirements, reaching out to "physicians from historically disadvantaged backgrounds (ethnic, financial or educational)."
This booklet commemorates the 25th anniversary of the program.