Special Communication
March 5, 2003

The Consequences of Premature Abandonment of Affirmative Action in Medical School Admissions

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 2003;289(9):1143-1149. doi:10.1001/jama.289.9.1143

The US Supreme Court recently accepted on appeal 2 cases from the University of Michigan regarding the constitutionality of race-conscious decision making in higher education admissions. The consequences of the Court's decision will directly affect the future of medicine in the United States. Medical schools have a societal obligation to select and educate the physician workforce of the future. To outlaw the use of affirmative action in the admissions process would cripple the profession's ability to achieve racial and ethnic diversity. Preserving this diversity in medical school admissions programs is important for 4 major reasons (1) adequate representation among students and faculty of the diversity in US society is indispensable for quality medical education; (2) increasing the diversity of the physician workforce will improve access to health care for underserved populations; (3) increasing the diversity of the research workforce can accelerate advances in medical and public health research; and (4) diversity among managers of health care organizations makes good business sense. This article explores these reasons in detail, reviews the history and effectiveness of affirmative action in medical school admissions programs, and explains why alternatives to affirmative action are unworkable.