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  • Landmark Case Could Change Admissions Policies

    Ran Zhao 
    National Health Policy Associate Coordinator, AMSA
    University of Connecticut
    School of Public Health 2013/School of Medicine 2014

      On October 10, the issue of race in medical school admission policies will be introduced once again at the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas.

    In 2008, Abigail Fisher accused the University of denying her admission because she was Caucasian. The Association of American Medical Collages (AAMC) along with 28 other medically related organizations including the American Medical Association, and the American Medical Student Association, filed an amicus curiae (a brief filed by a group that is not a part of the case) in support of the University of Texas. 

    This case has re-surfaced previous landmark cases involving admissions and ethnicity. Historically, in the landmark case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke 1978, the Supreme Court stated that race should be a factor in the holistic review process of medical school admissions, even though schools cannot create a separate category for applicants based solely on race. In Grutter v. Bollinger 2003a, the Supreme Court again ruled 5-4 in favor of utilizing race as part of the holistic admissions process at the University of Michigan Law School. In the current case, Abigail Fischer and her supporters would like the court to declare the admission policy of University of Texas to be unlawful, and they seek to remove the factor of race entirely from the admissions process. 

    In this brief, the medical community argues that medical schools have obligations that extend beyond individual students to the society at large. Those obligations include redressing the current disparities in health care, where minority patients have limited access to care, and when they do receive care, it is often of lower quality. For this reason and many others, medical schools have adopted admission policies that evaluate applicants holistically, including personal interviews of applicants in order to train and produce future physicians that can serve diverse patient populations. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that when physicians understand more about the diverse cultures and backgrounds of their patients, their decision making is better informed, patients are more likely to follow their advices, which in turn result in improved medical outcomes. Thus, there is no logical substitution for the holistic review process for medical school applicants. Test scores and academic prowess is but one component of a physician’s training. 

    If we reduce the admissions policy to measuring applicants strictly by their academic merits, we will rob our society and our patients of their health and well being. If we accept Fisher’s invitation to overrule the current holistic review process, the consequences will be catastrophic, because it means we will be defeating one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession on a systemic level: Primum non nocere (First, do no harm). 

    Keep an eye out for the oral argument October 10th and see how ethnicity and our admissions process will evolve!

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  • Medical Schools Increasing Minority Enrollment

    The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently announced that the number of minorities who enrolled in medical schools has grown – especially among Hispanic males. 

    Enrollment among white students increased by 1.5% from 2009 to 2010. Meanwhile, total enrollment for male Hispanic students grew more than 17%, and Hispanic female enrollees increased by 1.6%.

    The total number of Latinos and Latinas who started medical school in 2010 was 1,539, or about 8% of the total number of first-year medical school students. Hispanics make up about 16% of the U.S. population, according to 2009 U.S. Census figures.

    AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch said the numbers — which reflect a national trend toward increased diversity — are good news for patients. He told The Hill, "You don't improve the health of communities without having a workforce that reflects the diversity of those communities.”

    In order to increase the diversity of the physician workforce, students must be exposed to the possibility of a career in health care as early as possible. 

    Having a diverse physician workforce is a critical component in making health care available to those who need it most. The lack of diversity of medical students, coupled with ineffective cultural competency education, continues to produce training and treatment environments that are biased, intolerant and contributory to health disparities.

    Racial and ethnic minorities comprise 26% of the total population of the United States, yet only roughly 6% of practicing physicians are Latino, African American and Native American.

    For the complete AAMC report, click here.

    You can also download the teleconference, where Dr. Kirch discusses 2010 medical school application data with members of the press.

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