American College of Physicians joins brief urging Supreme Court to uphold considerations of race, ethnicity in medical school admissions process

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The American College of Physicians (ACP) has joined the Association of American Medical Colleges and 31 other organisations in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, urging the court to uphold considerations of race and ethnicity in the medical school admissions process.

The petitioners argue that great health disparities remain in the USA, most significantly along the lines of race and ethnicity. Socio-economic status and residence in a rural or urban environment are also associated with significant health disparities.

Factors contributing to these disparities include an inadequate number of doctors practicing in under-served areas, and the petitioners argue that the solution is a workforce of culturally competent health professionals.

“Student diversity clearly benefits all medical school students, faculty, and practicing physicians by enhancing opportunities for improved cultural competencies and sensitivity,” says Wayne J. Riley, president, ACP. “Preventing, inhibiting, or barring medical schools from considering race and ethnicity in admissions would undermine policies intended to provide enhanced opportunities in the medical profession for students from minority and underserved populations and would counter necessary efforts to achieve a more diversified physician workforce to serve an increasingly more diverse American public.”

In its “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care” policy ACP says that “medical and other health professional schools should revitalise efforts to improve matriculation and graduation rates of minority students. ACP supports policies that allow institutions of higher education to consider a person’s race and ethnicity as one factor in determining admission in order to counter the impact of current discriminatory practices and the legacy of past discrimination practices.”

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2013 out of the total US active physicians, 4.1% were Black or African American, 4.4% were Hispanic or Latino, 0.4% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 11.7% were Asian.

“Much work needs to be done by our nation’s medical schools to improve representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the medical profession,” says Riley.

The ACP Ethics Manual, also, states: “Physicians should provide culturally sensitive care. Cross-cultural efficacy ‘implies the caregiver is effective in interactions that involve individuals of different cultures and that neither the caregiver’s nor the patient’s culture is the preferred or more accurate view. Cultural humility ‘enhances patient care by effectively weaving an attitude of learning about cultural differences into patient encounters.’”

ACP and 29 other organisations filed a similar brief to the Court in this case in 2012.