Health groups urge Supreme Court to allow medical schools to weigh race in admissions

If justices bar the consideration of race, the enrollment of students from minority groups will plunge, the Association of American Medical Colleges and other groups contend.

Healthcare groups are urging the Supreme Court to allow medical schools and colleges to continue the consideration of race in admissions.

The Association of American Medical Colleges and 45 other health associations have filed an amicus brief as the nation’s highest court considers cases on race in admissions.

The Supreme Court will hear two separate cases involving the University of North Carolina and Harvard College in the fall. Plaintiffs in both cases are seeking to overturn a 2003 Supreme Court ruling which said the University of Michigan could consider race in admissions as a factor in improving the school's diversity.

The health groups are arguing in favor of upholding the precedent. Medical colleges are striving to develop more doctors from underrepresented groups. Health leaders have said it’s imperative to add more diversity to the nation’s physician workforce.

The AAMC argues that if medical schools and colleges are prohibited from considering race in applications, it will lead to a dramatic decline in the enrollment of racial and ethnic minorities. And that would impact patient care, the groups said.

David J. Skorton, the AAMC president and CEO, said more diversity in medical schools and colleges will improve healthcare nationally.

“Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated health inequities along racial and ethnic lines in nearly every index of human health, and evidence shows that increased racial diversity in the health professions can help close that gap,” Skorton said in a statement.

“The AAMC has long supported the limited consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions where necessary and in support of a medical school’s mission, with deference to each school’s individualized admissions process and expertise.”

Other health groups who have signed onto the amicus brief include the American Medical Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association, among others.

Applicants deserve to have their full life experience considered, the AAMC argued. Medical schools need to be able to look at more than transcripts, said Geoffrey Young, AAMC’s senior director of its program to transform the healthcare workforce,

“Medical schools have a long history of considering more than an applicant’s GPA and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score, and in making admissions decisions in recognition of the broader set of competencies that are required to practice medicine,” Young said in a statement.

“Medical schools – not judges – are in the best position to select the best future physicians,” Young said.

The amicus brief ties the diversity of medical schools directly to the nation’s public health.

“There is no way to know how non-diverse the healthcare community would become in future years and decades if holistic review were forbidden in medical education, but it is clear that the lives and health of the American public would be gravely diminished,” the brief states.

Medical colleges are making headway in drawing more applicants from minority groups, though most would suggest there is more work to be done.

In 2021, medical schools reported an uptick in students from some minority groups. The number of Black first-year students rose to 2,562, a 21% increase, while the number of first-year students who are Hispanic or Latino rose to 2,869, a 7.1% increase. There were 6,004 Asian first-year students, an 8% increase.

However, the number of first-year American Indian or Alaska Native students dropped by 8.5%, to 227.

Many healthcare advocates have said improving the diversity of the nation’s physicians is imperative in closing disparities among minority groups. Only about 5% of America’s doctors are Black, while 5% of the nation’s physicians are Hispanic, according to data from the AAMC.

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on both cases on race in admissions on Oct. 31, the first day of the court’s fall session, SCOTUSBlog reported.

In 2016, the high court narrowly ruled that the University of Texas could consider race in applications. The court’s makeup has changed substantially in the past six years, and with conservative justices now holding a majority of the court, a similar outcome in the current cases is far from certain.

Earlier this week, a coalition of 20 attorneys general urged the Supreme Court to allow higher education to continue consideration of race as one factor in admissions.

"Now, more than ever, it’s critical that our students – future doctors and nurses, teachers, and business and community leaders – come from all backgrounds and learn in a diverse educational environment,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.

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