Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Education Department is requiring the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center medical school to discontinue its practice of factoring race into its admissions decisions. The medical school agreed to a deal with the Education Department in order to end the long-running federal investigation into its use of affirmative action. In 2003, after the Supreme Court ruled that race was admissible as a factor in admissions decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center resumed use of race as a criteria in admissions decisions. In 2004, the Center for Equal Opportunity filed a complaint against the school, and the next year the Education Department began the investigation, which this agreement concludes.
Texas Tech had previously ceased using its affirmative action policy for admissions in the pharmacy school in 2008 and for undergraduate programs in 2013. However, the medical school contended that, “It must continue weighing race in its admissions process because a cohort of doctors from different backgrounds could best serve Texas’ racially and ethnically diverse communities.” However, the recently signed agreement stipulated that the school was not providing an annual review of the necessity of race-based admissions and therefore could not rule out that other factors may provide similar diversity-levels. The agreement also suggested that the medical school use other “race-neutral factors” to meet diversity aims, “such as recruiting students from low-income areas and favoring bilingual or first-generation college students.”
Earlier this week and just following news of this agreement, Kaplan Test Prep released survey results showing that 80 percent of 245 pre-med students surveyed in January 2019 say that “It’s important for the American medical profession to be more demographically representative of the general patient population.” Among the students who agreed with this statement, one commented, “While it is certainly possible to be empathetic and ‘tuned in’ to your patients despite differences in language, culture, etc., it is important for patients to feel like they can relate to and trust their clinician…If American clinicians were more demographically representative of the population as a whole, patients would likely find it easier to connect with a care provider they are most comfortable with.” Those in the 20 percent who did not agree with the statement were more likely to focus on the importance of drive and technical ability in becoming an effective doctor.
Additionally, an earlier Kaplan study with medical school admissions officers showed that many felt competent with their school’s diversity efforts. When the admissions officers were asked to grade his/her medical school on diversity, the majority gave themselves a B (35 percent) or C (34 percent), while fewer rewarded themselves with an A (18 percent) and even fewer a D or F (5 percent).
While it is clear that prospective medical students and doctors see the value in diversity in medical school admissions, the process by which the schools will implement these diversity goals is changing based on the views of the current administration. And these changes should be noted, especially by prospective medical students.
For future applicants: Overall, it is wise to seek experiences that improve your ability to work with others, particularly those unlike yourself. And throughout your application, you will want to speak to these experiences in a manner that showcases your commitment to serving a diverse population of patients, highlights areas where you will bring diversity into the program, and show how you have thrived and what you have learned in diverse environments in the past.