According to research, the civil rights argument recognizes the nation’s legacy of racially segregated educational institutions and hospitals; it argues that measures such as affirmative action in health professions schools’ admissions policies are justifiable to redress the lack of equal opportunity.
While waiting to reap the fruits of developing and maintaining a solid educational pipeline for minority youth, the best legal means of closing the racial and cultural gap in the medical professions is race-conscious problem-solving and decision-making at both the collegiate and professional levels.
One of the most influential legal cases is the Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in the University of California vs. Bakke, which addresses the use of race and ethnicity as one factor among many to select college and professional applicants. The University of Michigan provides the best model of an institution capable of guarding its race-conscious admission policies.
Historical Efforts to Diversify Medicine
Before the 1960s, the racial and gender makeup of medical school classes and the profession itself nationwide was predominately white and male. Despite their growth in the country’s population, racial minorities such as African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians/Alaskan Natives made up 2 percent of medical school registrants and 75 percent of those attending school went to Howard University College of Medicine or Meharry Medical College of Medicine in the mid-1960s.
At the time, a medical school admitted one minority student every other year. Racial segregation was apparent in the medical field before the 1960s as it was in every other white collar or blue collar profession–as was always the case in previous decades, researchers say.
With the advent of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and urban riots came an awareness of institutional racism and bias that pervaded American society, including the nation’s medical schools. The schools were hit with the same political and social revolutionary forces that struck other institutions at the time.
The result was a dramatic rise in the number of minority medical students. This did not translate into a dramatic increase in academic and professional achievement among minorities but rather dedication on the part of the country’s institutions to examine their own policies and the lack of access for members of these groups with a view towards reversing past trends. The federal government influenced these changes by implementing financial aid and other programs for low- to moderate-income students and minorities.
These programs continue to support diversity to this day. However, many are coming under budget cuts, along with programs authorized by Titles VII and VIII of the Public Service Act. All of these programs provide funding to health professions students and offer training to undergraduate students interested in medical careers and minority faculty.
Enrollment of minority students in medical schools nationwide increased to 8 percent of all applicants by the early 1970s. The admissions numbers stabilized for the next 15 years or more in the mid-1970s. Additionally, the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in both medical school and the medical profession grew, bridging the diversity gap between medicine and the general public….continued
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Last updated January 2014