In hindsight, 2020 is appearing to be a pivotal time in medical education. 2020 saw the emergence of the SARS-2 Covid-19 pandemic, social upheavals, the decision by the National Board for Medical Examiners (NBME) to make the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 examination pass/fail, increased numbers of applications to medical schools especially from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine (URM) and the increasing recognition by so many well-meaning people in medicine and healthcare of the importance of diversifying our medical school classes. All these developments make now the best time to make our admissions actions match the rhetoric. There are many documented benefits of diversity in medicine. Black patients and Black babies have better health outcomes when their physicians are Black.

URM students add important benefits to medical school classes and these have been widely published. URM students are more likely to return to medically underserved communities to practice. They have a better understanding of and compassion for the issues their future patients face for they come from the communities they will serve. URM students bring their unique perspectives, life stories, and grit to the medical school classes they join and, thus, enhance the academic experience of their medical school classes. These URM students help their classmates learn about their diverse cultures and help their classmates become comfortable and familiar with cultural mores different from theirs. In so doing, URM students help improve the cultural competency of the entire class. The importance of diversity extends to patient care outcomes. Minority patients have a higher acceptance of and trust in their physicians who are of the same race and ethnicity leading to positive health outcomes for them. With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, these URM physicians are, indeed, the lifeline for their under-resourced minority patients.

The proliferation of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officers recently appointed at most organizations is evidence that academic medical centers recognize the importance of diversifying the physician workforce. Many medical specialties have followed suit and established DEI committees to help recruit URM students to their programs. For many years now, many schools and organizations seem to agree to diversify their medical school classes and residency programs, but the outcomes vary and have not shown a significant increase in the numbers of URM candidates selected.

Read the full article about building a diverse medical workforce by Ngozi F. Anachebe at Brookings.