There is a pronounced need for greater diversity among the student body in medical schools. This need for a more diverse student body is evidenced by recent studies showing only approximately 7% of medical students in the United States are black, and only 5.3% are Hispanic/Latino. According to an article in the Washington Blade, members of the LGBTQ community are attending medical schools in increasingly greater numbers. However, there remains a need for a more diverse makeup across medical school students here in the United States and abroad.
The makeup of the student body mirrors the makeup of faculty at many institutions, where diversity is also an issue.
Dr. Adedayo Akande, president of the University of Health Sciences Antigua, weighs in on the matter of diversity in medical schools, particularly in the United States:
“There is a need for diversification, not only for inclusion but because the US is a very diverse country with many cultures represented,” he says.
The Positives of Increased Diversity
Improving the diversity of medical schools only stands to improve the medical community and medical industry as a whole. Students can attend school supported by peers with similar backgrounds, and a diverse faculty makeup allows them to be supported and mentored by people from their varied communities.
Exposing students to different cultures and types of people also allows them to build a strong foundation for a career in medicine.
“The positives of improved diversity in medical school is that it allows students to interact with many different cultures, which will be important when these students become practicing physicians,” says Dr.Akande.
The world is diverse, and the medical community will need a varied framework of physicians and medical professionals to best serve that community.
Diversity, in this case, needs to extend beyond race or sexual orientation. It needs to include socio-economic factors, sex, gender identity, age, and disability status as well.
Diversity Initiatives Start Before Medical School
“I believe it is important for not just medical schools to prioritize attracting diverse students, but colleges and community colleges should also encourage diversification,” says Dr. Akande, “I’ve interacted with students at many different levels of education, from high school to graduate school. Often, students are unaware or not encouraged to pursue specific sciences, particularly medical school.”
Encouraging students early on to consider going into medicine turns the tide on diversity. Encouragement includes pushing STEM programs as early as elementary and middle school, giving marginalized groups access to mentors in the medical industry, and giving easier pathways for students to learn about and pursue medical education.
In many communities, a lack of funding contributes to diversity shortcomings later down the road. When public schools do not have the financial support for programs centered towards elevating historically dismissed groups into the medical field, that results in those people not ending up in the medical field. Recent studies show that most medical students come from affluent households and communities. Until greater economic attention is paid to these oft-forgotten communities, the numbers concerning diversity will likely remain stagnant.
Working towards a more diverse makeup within medical school classes only strengthens the medical community. All ethnicities, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, and people with disabilities deserve equal access to an excellent medical education. Making diversity a priority across medical school organizations will ensure better care is extended to patients in the future.