Diversity Standards and Medical School Admissions

Study finds impact of an accreditor's shift.

December 10, 2018
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An accreditor's actions appear to have had a positive (but modest) impact on the diversity of medical school admissions, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study looked at the impact of diversity requirements put in place in 2009 by the Liaison Commission on Medical Education. The standards did not set numerical goals, nor did they require medical schools to do so. Rather, the medical schools were required to have a "mission-appropriate" diversity policy with the goal of admitting qualified candidates from groups not historically well represented in medical schools. The medical schools were also required to show that they had ongoing recruitment efforts.

Medical schools were encouraged to define diversity broadly, including (but not limited to) sex, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

Because medical schools are generally reviewed every eight years, the new study examined their statistics in 2002 and again in 2017, to compare the period before and after the standards were put in place. Historically black medical schools and those in Puerto Rico were excluded from the analysis, and data were compared for 120 medical schools.

The changes were as follows:

  • In 2002, 49 percent of newly enrolled students were women, 6.8 percent were black, 5.4 percent were Hispanic and 20.8 percent were Asian.
  • In 2017, 50.4 percent of new students were women, 7.3 percent were black, 8.9 percent were Hispanic and 24.6 percent were Asian.

The study acknowledges that many medical schools may have had diversity initiatives irrespective of what the accreditor required. But the authors found that the accreditor's requirements led to increased activity, along with awareness by medical schools of the need to report results.

The gains in the two periods were not dramatic, But the study noted that in the eight years prior to the enactment of the standards in 2009, the enrollment share of women and black students dropped marginally each year.

Dowin Boatright, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale University and lead author of the study, said in a summary of the research that the accreditor's actions led to meaningful change. “The standards do make a difference,” he noted. “It is a tool that diversity advocates didn’t have before to implement diversity programs.”

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