WASHINGTON — Howard University College of Medicine is number three among the 141 American medical schools in producing doctors that meet the nation’s new health care needs, according to a study by George Washington University released Monday.

The study in the June 15 edition of the Annals of Medicine is the first ever to score all U.S. medical schools on their ability to meet a social mission. It shows wide variations among institutions in their production of physicians who practice primary care, work in underserved areas and are minorities.

The authors said these findings are important in the context of U.S. health care today.

“The social mission of medicine and medical education should be important to everyone,” says lead author Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan, a professor of health policy at George Washington University. “It isn’t just about rural areas or just about poor people; it’s about the entire fabric of how we deliver care.

“As patients are insured through health reform, the first place they will go is the primary care office. Medical schools need to be mindful of the nation’s requirements for primary care, for doctors prepared to work in underserved communities and for minority physicians to help meet the growing and changing needs of the country.”

Dr. Eve J. Higginbotham, senior vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences at Howard University, put the story in its historical perspective.

“Primary care has always been priority for graduates of historically Black colleges and universities,” Higginbotham said. “Traditionally, we were shut out of the specialties.  Now that primary care is now a national priority, this reaffirms the importance of diversity in medical education and demonstrates the added value of historically Black colleges and universities.”

Dr. Edward Cornwell III, a graduate of the Howard’s College of Medicine, is surgeon-in-chief at Howard University Hospital and chair of the surgery department at the university’s medical school.

Cornwell, whose father, wife and brother are also graduates of Howard University College of Medicine, said he was not particularly surprised by the findings.

“The study validates what Howard’s mission has been historically,” he said.  “But one should not oversimplify the findings as just being a function of the historical mission of . 

“Instead, it should get us to thinking along the lines of the sophisticated discipline needed to produce quality physicians whose desire is to address the nation’s health care disparities.” The study’s authors noted the findings bring attention to the role that medical schools play in determining the make-up of the U.S. physician workforce.

“Where doctors choose to work, and what specialty they select, are heavily influenced by medical school,” Mullan says. “By recruiting minority students and prioritizing the training of primary care physicians and promoting practice in underserved areas, medical schools will help deliver the health care that Americans desperately need.”

Among the area’s other medical schools, the University of Maryland was number 36 in the study based on meeting the nation’s medical needs, George Washington University number 60, University of Virginia number 99, Georgetown number 110 and Johns Hopkins number 122 of 141 medical schools.