Attacks on DEI threaten med schools' efforts to recruit more Black students : Shots – Health News

Jerrian Reedy, a medical student at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, shares a painful childhood memory that led him to pursue a career in medicine. In 2009, his father was shot three times and later died in a hospital after being denied access due to his critical condition. This traumatic experience prompted Reedy to help others avoid similar situations and alleviate the pain that arises from the loss of loved ones at an early age.

As one of the few Black students in his medical school class, Reedy joins an underrepresented group of medical professionals in a state with a population where nearly 4 in 10 people identify as Black or African American. Of the 660 medical students in the same program, only about 12% are Black.

Schools around the country are attempting to recruit a diverse range of medical students, with Black, Hispanic, and Native American students notably underrepresented. Patients of color often prefer seeing doctors of their own race, and some research suggests that Black patients may have improved health outcomes when seeing Black doctors. However, the trend of Republican opposition and anti-DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) legislation has threatened these efforts and may perpetuate deep health disparities experienced by people of color.

Laws aiming to restrict or ban diversity programs have been introduced in numerous states such as Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Alabama, among others. As a result, school administrators must adapt to new policies that, if not managed carefully, might reduce efforts to encourage racial diversity among medical students. One example of these changes is the University of Florida’s elimination of all DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs in March 2023, which followed a bill signing by Republican Governor Kay Ivey in Alabama, banning DEI programs in public schools, state agencies, and universities as of October 2023.

Conversely, the movement to prohibit DEI programs finds support from conservative organizations and groups like the Heritage Foundation. They argue that diversity programs lead to various negative outcomes, while claiming that focusing on qualified doctors regardless of race could improve the number of highly-skilled physicians regardless of skin color.

Nevertheless, a historical lack of Black physicians can be seen clearly in Mississippi, which has one of the country’s poorest health systems. For example, there are significantly fewer than 600 Black physicians serving the state’s over 1.1 million Black residents, causing a wide gap between the diversity of the patient population and that of the medical professionals providing care. The school’s admissions department seeks to bridge this divide by hosting annual visit days and outreach programs designed for prospective Black medical students and applicants from underrepresented communities.

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