As debate about the affirmative action policies at U.S. universities continues, the AAMC is boldly pushing medical schools to improve diversity among their students to reflect the patient populations they will treat.
The American Association of Medical Colleges is one of dozens of organizations that filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief supporting the University of Texas' affirmative action policy that is being challenged in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case December 9. The American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and other healthcare-related organizations also filed an amicus curiae upholding the AAMC's support of affirmative action.
As SCOTUS cases usually are, the actual issue is narrow (one student is challenging the policy), but the outcome has broad implications for, in this case, race-based college admissions. In medical school, the issue of diversity is more than academic. AAMC President and CEO Darrell Kirch, MD, made it clear in his speech at the AAMC annual meeting in November that in order to improve healthcare quality, diversity on medical school campuses must also improve, saying, "…we must admit medical school classes that reflect the diversity of our communities."
Heidi Chumley, MD
More than half of students enrolled in U.S. medical schools are white, according to the AAMC. At American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, an international medical school in St. Maarten where 85% of the students are from the U.S., the racial make-up is reversed: 51% of the students are non-white, with large groups of Asian, African-American, and Hispanic students, says Dean Heidi Chumley, MD.
"We have a lot more students from diverse backgrounds, not only in race and ethnicity, but also geographically," Chumley says. "We have students from rural areas and also students who are economically disadvantaged. The key to admitting a class that is diverse is looking at the barriers that are keeping diverse populations out of medicine."
One of the biggest barriers, says Chumley, is the MCAT. The entrance test was revised earlier this year to include a psychological, social, and biological behavior component to gauge students' softer skills.
"Being a good doctor is about more than scientific knowledge," Kirch said in a 2012 statement when the changes were first announced. "It also requires an understanding of people."
Hospital and healthcare system leaders know that the softer skills of physicians, such as bedside manner and communication style, can impact patient experience, satisfaction, and quality. They're spending time and money on leadership classes that teach the very things the new MCAT is gauging before medical students step into their first rotation.
Jacqueline Fellows is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.