New York state is doubling its spending to expand the physician workforce to include more people of color, bringing total efforts to $2.4 million, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday.

The money is going toward an effort first launched in 2017 meant to diversify the state's doctors. At the moment, only 12% of physcians are Black or Hispanic despite comprising 30% of the state's overall population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the unequal health outcomes for people of color, who were more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus.

"For far too long, communities of color in New York have faced disparities in their access to healthcare and have endured poorer health outcomes, both of which have resulted partially from their under-representation in the medical field," Hochul said. "By doubling our commitment to programs that champion diversity in medicine, we can ensure that our state's healthcare workforce is more representative of our state's population and help right historic wrongs."

The program is meant to encourage students from diverse programs to pursue jobs in medicine, get accepted to and complete medical school in the state. Bridges to Medicine, a program within the Associated Medical Schools of New York at SUNY Downstate, is among the programs expected to benefit.

Additional programs like the Pathways to Careers in Medicine and Research Program at the City College of New York and the Learning Resource Center are also expected to receive funding.

"There are few things more important to our goals of improving health equity than the work of ensuring that the medical profession is as diverse as the New Yorkers they serve," Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. "Having a trusted voice and someone who understands the unique facets of your life experience can change a person's understanding of their own health. This funding makes an investment in the people who make that a reality, and it will help for years to come by improving diversity, equity and inclusion to achieve better health outcomes for those who are traditionally underserved."

State officials estimate about 20% of all medical students in New York are from Black, Hispanic/Latino, Pacific Islander, or Native American backgrounds.