Dr. Valerie M. Rice breaking new ground
She becomes the first female president of Morehouse School of Medicine
By D. Aileen Dodd | 8/16/2014, 1:32 p.m.
Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice is breaking ground as the first female president of Morehouse School of Medicine at a time when the pressure is on the national health care industry to offer quality affordable health care.
Her rise to the presidency comes during a period of job growth in public health. The Affordable Care Act has extended a safety net of constant care to 9.3 million Americans including the poor and chronically ill. The increased access to health insurance is creating a demand for more health care workers.
Rice, who maybe the first African American woman in history named to lead a freestanding medical school, says graduates of Morehouse School of Medicine are poised to emerge as leaders in the changing landscape of public health. Morehouse has a mission to groom diverse health care professionals who are sensitive to patient needs and socially conscious of the disparities to care that exist in low income and minority communities.
“We are still one of the most inexpensive medical schools to attend in the country,” said Dr. Rice, who earned her medical degree at Harvard School of Medicine in 1987. “We were founded to address the physician shortage and to diversity the workforce.”
But like most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), struggles with student enrollment and academic funding remain a challenge for Morehouse School of Medicine as fewer African American males graduate from high school. At a total of 370 students overall, the enrollment at Morehouse School of Medicine, which offers degrees in medicine, public health and biomedical sciences, is about 60 percent female. The student population in the medical program, which costs about $45,200, is growing. But with 236 students, the enrollment is still about 60 less than the national average for medical schools.
“Unfortunately, students at Morehouse School of Medicine come from a household income of about $45,000,” Dr. Rice said. “When you look at the national averages, a student who goes to medical school comes from a household income of about $170,000. My challenge is to increase the amount of opportunities for scholarships for students.”
Rice has set a goal of growing the average class size to 100 in the M.D. program over the next few years. She would also like to see a 20 percent increase in enrollment in the masters of public health program.
The new president has won the confidence of students who respect her leadership and applaud the university’s choice of promoting her. Rice, a renowned fertility specialist, decided to become a doctor in her junior year at Georgia Tech. She completed her residency at Emory University and hospital, and worked as a professor at several medical schools including Vanderbilt, the University of Kansas, and Meharry Medical College where she launched the Center for Women’s Health Research. In 2011, Rice was named as a dean and executive vice president at Morehouse.
“This is an historic event and I am extremely excited for her,” Brion Edwards, who is in his second year in the Master’s of Public Health program at Morehouse, said of Rice’s presidency. “The fact that they were able to recognize her leadership and how she was able to run this amazing institution speaks volumes of the Board of Trustees and of the outgoing president. She has the capacity to lead this institution in a very progressive way.’’