June 24, 2024

Ensuring the diversity of the health workforce in the post-affirmative action era

The Supreme Court decision for affirmative action will affect admissions programs for all institutions of higher education, including those that educate health professionals. This is a major blow to efforts to ensure the diversity of the health workforce, which is necessary to provide our nation with the highest quality health care.

A diverse medical workforce brings more diverse opinions to the table, which improves problem solving, innovation and assessment skills compared to non-diverse teams. The rulings harm efforts to reduce health disparities, as there is strong evidence that a diverse student body and diverse health workforce positively impacts the quantity and quality of care, particularly for currently underserved populations.

Research George Washington University shows that Black, Latino and Native American populations are severely underrepresented in the health workforce, and the latest news could make that situation worse.

Make no mistake — a less diverse healthcare workforce is a bad outcome for everyone. The Supreme Court’s decision is likely to adversely affect the nation’s health if we do not act quickly.

We can and must forge a path forward. We know there are other policies and programs that can support a more diverse health workforce but it requires us to maintain our commitment to the diversity of the health workforce.

Although we have lost one of the most effective constitutional justifications used to create a diverse student body that leads to a diverse health workforce, there is strong empirical evidence that other strategies can help achieve the goal of ensuring student and workforce diversity in the health professions.

Diversity extends beyond consideration of race in admissions decisions. Entry into higher education is only one step on a long continuum from K-12 to a career in health. In 2021, a team at GW a study of the many barriers to a diverse health workforce and identified many strategies to address these barriers.

Taking into account factors such as income, wealth, high school class and being the first generation to go to college not only increases racial and ethnic diversity but also increases educational access for other high-needs students such as rural and non-traditional students. A holistic admissions review that considers a wide range of race-neutral factors creates a more diverse workforce.

Another step is to end legacy admissions which would open up a large number of slots in higher education, making room for wider diversity. Recently study they revealed that 29 percent of admissions involved applicants who received preferential treatment at Harvard such as legacy applicants, athletes, children of faculty/staff and other preferred applicants, and the vast majority of these students were white. Eliminating those options would increase the ability of non-white students, who are less likely to have heritage or donor parents, to enroll in these institutions.

Building a diverse workforce must begin long before individuals apply to higher education programs. Pathway programs have many benefits, including preparing and assisting students interested in all careers that require higher education. Mentoring can also be very effective — through formal programs or informal student support. Building linkages between health professional education programs and community colleges, Black Colleges and Universities, and other historically minority-serving institutions has also proven effective. Scholarship support can make a difference to many students.

The experience in the nine states it provides important lessons that have previously banned the consideration of race in admissions, including in California when Proposition 209 in 1996 banned the consideration of race in admissions at public universities.

Recently University of California, San Francisco study documented recovery of Black and Latino medical student enrollments. They reported that the number of Latino students in California’s medical schools immediately after Proposition 209 dropped from 113 in 1990 to a low of 92 in 1997 before climbing to 200 in 2019. Similarly, Black medical student enrollments initially fell after Proposition 209 from 63 in 1990 to 47 in California but rebounded to 200 in 2019. 2019. significant strategic investments in student training programs dedicated to serving underserved groups, advising and mentoring programs for college students from disadvantaged backgrounds and post-baccalaureate programs for students who graduate from under-resourced schools.

The health of our population depends on our continued progress toward a diverse health care workforce despite the fact that we must follow the new Supreme Court decisions. The higher education and health communities must redouble their efforts to ensure a strong and diverse US health workforce, one just as ready to treat the next cold or infectious disease. The health of our nation depends on it.

Dayna Bowen Matthew is the Dean and Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at the George Washington University School of Law. Edward Salsberg is co-director of the Health Workforce Diversity Initiative at George Washington University. The views expressed in this piece reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of George Washington University.

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