When Medical Schools Become Less Diverse
In February, Texas Tech University reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to end the use of race in admissions to its medical school. Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are significantly underrepresented in medical schools, Adam Harris reported in April, and eliminating the use of race in admissions has been shown to lead to a decline in the enrollment of those underrepresented students.
Yet research has shown that health outcomes are improved when black patients have black doctors. “The lack of diversity isn’t a problem merely for young black college graduates hoping to become doctors someday,” Harris wrote, “but for many of their would-be patients as well.”
As Adam Harris correctly highlights, health-care outcomes are negatively impacted when our nation lacks a diverse medical workforce. Only 11 percent of medical students are black or Hispanic, compared with 31.6 percent of Americans. I would advance this discussion by stating that medical schools have a societal obligation to nurture diversity. This is crucial to the health of our communities, and something Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) is deeply committed to.
RUSM has taken an active leadership role by partnering with a number of historically black colleges and universities to establish pathways for diverse students to attend medical school. Qualified students in this program receive tuition assistance, and students from marginalized groups—as defined by socioeconomic status or underrepresented minority status, for example—are given access to a 15-week preparatory program to increase their rate of success. Although RUSM is based in Barbados, 98 percent of our students are U.S. or Canadian residents. We take pride in the diversity of our student body; about a quarter of our students are black or Hispanic. In 2018–19, the average U.S. medical school graduated eight black doctors, while RUSM graduated 83. And of the 608 RUSM medical students who attained residency in March, 82 were black and 61 were Hispanic.
Our approach to increasing diversity is an open and transportable model. We call on our colleagues in medical education to seek out minority students and support them throughout their medical career. The health of our nation depends on it.
William F. Owen Jr., M.D., F.A.C.P.
Dean and Chancellor, Ross University School of Medicine
I wholeheartedly agree that diversity is crucial. Our society is a fuller place when people of all cultures and countries partake and contribute. This is especially true within health care and the educational institutions that train would-be medical personnel.
As a student nurse at the University of California at San Francisco, I have witnessed firsthand the negative patient outcomes related to a lack of diversity. Many patients I’ve cared for have expressed their desire to be treated by clinicians of the same race, only to be disappointed when told that there are none available. As a society, we must address the structural barriers preventing underrepresented minorities from becoming medical professionals.
Diversity itself, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. In far too many cases there exists a lack of respect and appreciation for other cultures—even in diverse environments. Going forward, we must develop cultural humility within personal interactions. From the standpoint of humility, we can observe and resolve the power dynamics that drive patients and medical personnel apart.
San Francisco, Calif.
As an undergraduate studying public health at UC Berkeley, my most influential learning experiences and class discussions have stemmed from the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of my peers. It is absolutely essential that future physicians have the ability to collaborate with and understand people who come from different racial and ethnic—as well as cultural and socioeconomic—backgrounds.
Readers responded on Facebook:
Maggie Villamana Vuturo wrote: My medical school’s mission statement was to provide future physicians for the state of Arizona. I was one of the students on the admissions committee and the selection process we had was incredible. Diversity was key to insure we maximized the odds that we would train physicians from rural areas and the reservations, since studies show us that these physicians are more likely to practice in their home communities than a physician not from these areas. Diversity is key for this reason alone in medical school if we want to try to fill the void of physicians in rural areas and the reservations.