Are medical schools doing a good enough job of making their incoming student enrollment more diverse?

According to the Association of Medical Colleges, the answer is yes, although the percentage of practicing minority physicians is still historically low compared to the overall population.

“We have never seen such an increase within a short amount of time,” said Norma Poll-Hunter, who leads workforce diversity efforts at the Association of Medical Colleges. She points to research that shows, across all races, patients are more likely to report satisfaction with their care when their doctors look like them. However, only 5% of the country’s doctors are Black, according to the association’s latest data, released in 2019.

“When Black physicians, male physicians are working with Black male patients, we see better outcomes in preventative care or on cardiac care,” Poll-Hunter said. “We’ve also seen that in terms of infant mortality, as well.”

In a recent article for GBH news in Boston (Medical schools see record enrollment increase among Black students), writer Kirk Carapezza highlighted several medical school’s efforts to build more diversity among their incoming medical school students.

According to Dr. Cedric Bright, dean of admissions at East Carolina University’s medical school, “We’ve got to find ways to decrease the cost of medical school.” Bright said staggering debt-loads discourage many would-be doctors from even applying.

Tufts University in Massachusetts is also working hard to change this dynamic.

diverse med students

“We’ve been working hard on creating more diversity on campus,” said Joyce Sackey, Dean for Multicultural Affairs and Global Health at Tufts, adding that the ongoing racial reckoning has served as inspiration for admissions officers to re-double their diversity efforts. She said they need to take a second look at applicants from underrepresented communities, to provide more need-based scholarships rather than merit-based, and to make sure students know their school stands for equity.

Despite efforts like what is happening at Tufts University and Eastern Carolina University, it is apparent that this is a long-term problem that requires significant effort on the part of local communities, educational institutions, and employers. Many employers still don’t equate a diverse workforce to a better organizational culture and a stronger bottom line.

According to consulting firm McKinsey, “Our latest analysis reaffirms the strong business case for both gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity — and shows that this business case continues to strengthen. The most diverse organizations are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.”

Ultimately, the argument for more diversity in healthcare crosses many areas, including better clinical outcomes for many patients, a more engaged and happier workforce, and a more robust bottom line.


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