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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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