Excluding the breed from admission to medical school would harm health care

T.On Monday, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases that could eliminate race as a factor in college admissions processes. The precedent set in 2003, when the court ruled that race, along with other factors, could be limited in admissions to higher education when needed to achieve student body diversity, is now in jeopardy. If the court were to overturn its previous ruling, the implications would be felt widely in all sectors of society, including the healthcare system.

From my perspective as chair-elect of the board of directors of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), a position informed by my role as dean of medical education at Georgetown University School of Medicine, by the consideration of race as one of the so many elements in the admission process is not only appropriate but essential. U.S. medical schools – and healthcare in general – thrive on the diversity of thought, experience, and perspective made possible by this holistic approach to admissions.

What do I mean here by holistic? The goal of any medical school should be to select a class of doctors who demonstrate not only academic achievement, but also compassion and the drive to provide quality healthcare. In addition to considering standardized test scores and grades, those involved in admissions want to understand the character, beliefs, and circumstances of candidates who have helped shape their lives. A person’s race inherently affects his or her perspective, a fact that cannot be denied and must be considered.


I often hear people ask, “Is the admissions process about merit or is it about diversity?” It is about both; They are not mutually exclusive.

An essential part of medical education is for a diverse group of students to learn from each other’s experiences. They share ideas and seek solutions to make the health system fairer. In Georgetown, students enthusiastically volunteer at the school’s student-run health clinics, learning and helping to care for underserved community members.


The perspectives and values ​​exchanged between students during medical school are put into practice after graduation. A more diverse workforce leads to better patient experiences, especially among marginalized groups. A higher percentage of black students say they want to practice in disadvantaged communities, where doctors are most in need. People feel they are receiving better care and communication from doctors who share their race or gender.

When doctors meet patients where they are and build trust, they are more likely to seek preventive care and openly discuss their health issues, both of which are important to long-term health.

I know how essential it is for doctors to be proactive in working with neglected communities. Growing up, I have seen racial inequalities in health care affect my own family living in very racially segregated communities. When a cousin was injured at home as a boy, he went to his community’s safety net hospital and waited 28 hours before being treated. I also remember family members talking about pooling money to help another cousin with kidney failure buy a dialysis unit because there were no dialysis facilities in his community. The shortage of doctors in these racially segregated areas has contributed to both the decrease in treatment and the decrease in the defense of standard treatments.

Like many of the students I now have the privilege of teaching, I wanted to change this broken system. I wanted to make sure that my family members, and others like them, could get assistance when they needed it. Becoming a doctor was the way I was able to make this kind of change.

This virtuous circle – a more diverse medical profession, better care for the disadvantaged, better health – begins with who is accepted into medical school. Yet there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure US medical schools better reflect society.

AAMC data indicates that medical school classes are becoming increasingly diverse, but progress remains incremental. Between 1978 and 2019, the number of black male medical students stood at around 3%. As America faces a shortage of doctors, existing barriers to care will become even higher as resources become more strained among historically marginalized communities.

If the Supreme Court overturns the current precedent, the country must prepare to face the consequences, as California did after banning the examination of race from college admissions. Medical schools in the state have seen a significant reduction in enrollment of black students. More difficult to measure are the setbacks in patient care that come from a more homogeneous student population, but it is certain that they will be profound.

A tragic mistake – eliminating race as an admission factor – of the Supreme Court would behave in many ways: in those who have the opportunity to attend medical school, in the richness of that training, in the quality of care in the most disadvantaged countries of the country. and in the health of our families and our neighbors.

Denied the ability to consider a candidate’s race, admissions officers may consider a student’s postcode or socioeconomic status as court-approved metrics, but these will never tell the full story of a student’s lived experience. Race is an intrinsic part of this. It should remain a key part of the admission process.

Lee Jones is a psychiatrist, president-elect of the Board of Directors of the Association of American Medical Colleges, and dean of medical education at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC

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