AAFP Joins Brief Supporting Diversity in Med School Admissions

Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments Dec. 9

November 20, 2015 04:13 pm Sheri Porter

The AAFP, at the direction of its Board of Directors, recently joined the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and 31 other organizations in an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief(www.americanbar.org) to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Fisher v. University of Texas Austin case.(tarltonguides.law.utexas.edu)

[Supreme court building at night]

The case dates back to 2008, when Abigail Fisher, a white undergraduate student, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and subsequently challenged the institution's consideration of race in the undergraduate admissions process. She argued that the university's policy violated her right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

In addition to the Academy and AAMC, the AMA, American Osteopathic Association and American Academy of Pediatrics were among the groups that joined the amicus brief in support of the university, arguing that diversity is an important component in the educational mission of medical schools because physicians' education must enable them to serve diverse populations and communities.

In 2012 -- also at the request of the AAMC -- the Academy joined a similar amicus brief(www.americanbar.org) related to the same case that was equally supportive of the University of Texas admissions policy.

It should be noted that historically, U.S. courts have dealt with a variety of cases about diversity in education. Many of those cases have been sparked by admissions policies at undergraduate schools, as well as policies at the graduate school level.

Story Highlights
  • At the request of the Association of American Medical Colleges, the AAFP joined an amicus curiae brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of diversity in medical education.
  • The friend-of-the-court brief was submitted in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, which involved a white undergraduate student who was denied admission to the university and subsequently challenged the institution's consideration of race in the undergraduate admissions process.
  • AAFP policy calls for diversity in the physician workforce and for equitable representation of minorities and women in medical school.

Regardless of their origin, the cases have all shared a common theme -- namely, that schools should be allowed to determine their individual admissions considerations so that they can best meet their educational missions.

In the body of the most recent 38-page brief supporting the respondents, the groups referenced a recent U.S. Senate report(www.congress.gov) that concluded "diversity among medical school students is associated with higher levels of cultural sensitivity of all students and greater willingness to serve diverse populations." The same report found evidence to suggest that "minority health professionals are more likely to serve in areas with high rates of uninsured and areas of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups."

The brief noted that in 2014, 12.3 percent of first-year U.S. medical students identified themselves as black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native but that those same minorities constituted 30.5 percent of the U.S. population.

"It is therefore plain that health professionals of all races and ethnicities must learn to better serve the country's diverse patient population in order to reduce disparities in health outcomes," said the groups in their brief.

Furthermore, the groups contended, the nation's medical schools understand that a key component of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate health disparities "is to develop a workforce of people from all backgrounds to bridge the current differences between providers and patients."

The brief argued that, based on long-standing legal precedent, medical schools have developed and refined methods for individual, holistic review of applicants that may include race as a one of a multitude of factors. That practice, said the groups, must continue if medical schools are to achieve their educational goals.

In an interview with AAFP News, Stan Kozakowski, M.D., director of the AAFP's Division of Medical Education, echoed that view. "We know that health care outcomes improve when physicians and patients share similar ethnic and minority backgrounds.

"We also know from looking at AAMC statistics that the number of underrepresented minorities entering the field of medicine continues to decline at a steady pace," said Kozakowski.

U.S. medical schools must set their goals accordingly and strive to create the culturally diverse physician workforce the country needs, he added.

The Academy's support of the amicus brief syncs with AAFP policy adopted during the 2015 Congress of Delegates (COD) that calls for diversity in the physician workforce and states, "The AAFP will position itself in a leadership role in creating a medical workforce reflective of the patient populations family physicians serve."

Moreover, previous Academy policy calls for equitable representation of minorities and women in medical school and as staff and faculty at U.S. medical institutions.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments(www.supremecourt.gov) in the Fisher case on Dec. 9.