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New York City
September 2001

The Noblest Roman of Them All: Dean Stanford Roman
By Jacob M. Appel

An old joke tells aspiring high school students how to gain admission to medical school: have parents with high SAT scores. If a great number of the physicians in New York City are the children and grandchildren of physicians–
including, incidentally, the majority of medical school deans–then Dean Stanford Roman of the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at City College is certainly the “eclectic educator” among the directors of the city’s medical schools. His seven year combined BS-MD program recruits minority high school students, often the first in their family to attend college, and educates a high proportion of them to become primary care physicians in under-served communities. It is the only program of its kind in New York state.

“Our greatest challenge is to identify students who will succeed at Sophie Davis,” explained Roman. “We’re selecting students straight from high school so obviously we don’t have the amount of data the other schools do. And of course our students don’t have the maturity of recent college graduates. We’re forced to make decisions based upon potential. We try to ask ourselves how mature a student will be in two years or six years.” He added that the school receives more than six hundred applications for only sixty positions and interviews approximately one hundred students each year. “We do find the right students,” he said, “but it’s definitely a challenge.”

Students admitted to Sophie Davis spend their first five years on the Hamilton Heights campus of City College where they acquire a broad liberal arts education while also studying the basic sciences. They then relocate to one of seven New York area medical schools for their final two years of clinical training. Efforts are being made to expand the students’ clinical exposure so that even those students in their first few years have some access to patients and obtain a basic understanding of the daily practice of the field to which they are to devote their lives.

“Most of our students stay in the community and most stay in primary care,” noted Roman. He then added with a grin and a shrug: “We do have our share of plastic surgeons and neurosurgeons, of course.” The truth of the matter is that 80% of Sophie Davis graduates remain in New York and 75% enter traditional primary care fields. Since a City College medical education is in a sense subsidized by the state, students are required to devote their first two years of practice to an underprivileged community. Those who do not must reimburse the state $75,000—which means that nearly all Sophie Davis graduates participate in the service component of the program. More than one in three continues to work in an under-served community throughout their careers.

Roman’s personal history may explain his deep commitment to underprivileged minority youth. His father, a Jamaican-born cigar roller, worked his way through City College and the Howard University College of Dentistry only to discover that the state’s leading professional organization for dentists refused to admit blacks; undaunted, the elder Dr. Roman founded his own. Dean Roman discovered early on that he loved school and although he studied psychology in college, he quickly realized that medical school offered a gateway to a profession both interesting and useful. Without his father’s obstacles to professional advancement, he attended Dartmouth and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. In the summer between his first and second years of medical school, he helped conduct a study on the attitudes of recent mothers toward birth control that demonstrated widespread acceptance of contraception and led the New York State Department of Health to liberalize its approach to the subject. During his third year he was among several students who helped found a program in Central Harlem that offered free basic medical check-ups to schoolchildren. “Many of these kids had treatable disorders: deteriorating vision, sickle-cell disease. We were screening them for the first time,” explained Roman. “That’s when I learned that a doctor can make a difference in the community.”


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