Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, the number of African-American men enrolled in medical programs has steadily declined in the United States, according to a new study published by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and reported by the Grio.

The AAMC report revealed that in 2011 the number of first-time black male applicants to medical schools was the lowest among the five major population groups represented. (It was also less than that of African-American women who applied for the first time.)

Marc A. Nivet, EdD, chief diversity officer at the AAMC, said the study’s findings were not surprising considering that black men had low graduation rates from U.S. high schools in 2008. What’s more, Nivet added, other studies showed that black students had only an 18 percent completion rate for a bachelor’s degree compared with 35 percent for their white peers. Nivet believes these findings illustrate that black male students are less prepared for college-level work, not to mention the difficult medical school studies. “We’re clearly not doing enough in terms of effective interventions anywhere along the pipeline,” Nivet said.

Other experts attributed the decline to the high cost of earning a doctor’s degree. For many in an unstable economy, the long-term investment of medical school may not seem feasible and may create “sticker shock,” Nivet said.

But the dwindling numbers of African-American male doctors are a cause of concern for the black community. With fewer black doctors, access to health care could become even more challenging for low-income minorities, especially since many African-American medical students often go on to serve these communities.

Recent findings show that those who live in communities with people of similar backgrounds enjoy lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Click here to read more.