Skip to main content

Drop in Minority Med School Students Tied to Affirmative Action Bans

Analysis  |  By John Commins  
   May 03, 2022

Researchers note the disturbing trend runs contrary to the increased emphasis of many medical schools on health equity and building a more diverse physician workforce.

A new UCLA report finds that states that have eliminated affirmative action admissions at public medical schools also saw enrollment of racial and ethnic minority students fall by 37%.

In a study published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine said the disturbing trend runs contrary to the increased emphasis of many medical schools on health equity and building a more diverse physician workforce.

"We know that a more diverse physician workforce leads to better care for racial and ethnic minority patients," said lead author Dan Ly, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Geffen. "But we have made such poor progress in diversifying our physician workforce. Our research shows that bans on affirmative action, like the one California passed a quarter-century ago in 1996, has had a devastating impact on the diversity of our medical student body and physician pipeline." 

The study looked at enrollment data from 1985 through 2019 for 21 public medical schools in California and seven other states with bans on affirmative action and 32 public medical schools in 24 states without such bans.

The year before the eight states adopted their bans, underrepresented students in public medical schools in these states represented 14.8% of total enrollment. Five years after imposing the bans, however, enrollment of minority students at these public medical schools fell 5.5 percentage points compared to public medical schools in states without the bans. The 5.5 percentage point drop represents a 37% reduction relative to the 14.8% enrollment of underrepresented students in the year before ban implementation.  

"As our country has spent the last two years weaving through the twin pandemics of racial health disparities amplified by COVID-19 and structural racism at large, our findings are critically important," said co-author Utibe Essien, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

"As we observed, affirmative action bans have resulted in a loss of underrepresented physicians, who could have been at the frontlines of caring for vulnerable populations throughout the pandemic and helping to alleviate disparities in care," Essien said. "My hope is that our findings will help provide policymakers with the tools to push back against affirmative action bans, not just for the diversity of the physician workforce, but for the equal and just health of our society."

“Our research shows that bans on affirmative action, like the one California passed a quarter-century ago in 1996, has had a devastating impact on the diversity of our medical student body and physician pipeline.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

The study looked at enrollment data from 1985 through 2019 for 21 public medical schools in California and seven other states with bans on affirmative action and 32 public medical schools in 24 states without such bans.

The year before the eight states adopted their bans, underrepresented students in public medical schools in these states represented 14.8% of total enrollment. 

Five years later enrollment of minority students at these public medical schools fell 5.5 percentage points compared to public medical schools in states without the bans.

The 5.5 percentage point drop represents a 37% reduction relative to the 14.8% enrollment of underrepresented students in the year before ban implementation. 


Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.