The recent Supreme Court decision to strike down affirmative action effectively disparages the intellectual value and contributions of racial and ethnic minority students. The decision leads those of us who saw affirmative action as an important attempt to remedy historic and systemic racism to question the foundation of equality and justice in U.S. educational institutions.
That decision perpetuates a system that stifles efforts to promote equal opportunities and denies the transformative potential of a diverse workforce—something especially relevant to our academic medical centers and healthcare institutions.
Most important, research has shown that in states such as California, where affirmative action had been banned since 1996, there are significantly fewer Black and Latino students in undergraduate and medical schools than there had been prior to the ban. Those numbers matter; they are, in my view, a matter of life and death. Research has even shown better health outcomes for Black patients when they are cared for by someone who looks like them.
As academic medical institutions strive to close workforce disparity gaps and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), there is an urgent need to safeguard the momentum that has been achieved to reflect the true power and potential of every individual, regardless of background.
The best way to achieve these desired outcomes, regardless of the court’s decision, is for academic medical centers to continue developing a strong DEI infrastructure in hopes of educating a new generation of healthcare leaders who can provide care for all communities.
Investing in DEI Infrastructure
A diverse medical workforce is not just a matter of representation; it is necessary for maintaining educational excellence, groundbreaking research, accreditation, and equitable patient-care outcomes. It is through diversity that we can effectively dismantle healthcare disparities, bridge gaps in healthcare access, and provide culturally competent care to all individuals. The impact of diversity reverberates throughout the entire healthcare system, driving us toward a future where excellence, equity, and innovation are intertwined.
Additionally, it’s essential to have competent and effective DEI leadership in place to foster student satisfaction and overall success. An environment that values diversity not only enhances the educational experience but also promotes a sense of belonging among students. When students see themselves represented and valued, they are more likely to feel supported, engaged, and motivated to succeed academically and personally.
A sound DEI infrastructure creates avenues for students to participate in meaningful dialogues, engage in cultural celebrations, and access resources that help meet their unique needs. It ensures that all students, regardless of background, have equal opportunities to thrive, contributing to a positive and inclusive campus climate. By investing in DEI infrastructure, institutions prioritize the well-being and satisfaction of students, paving the way for a transformative and fulfilling educational journey.
Valuing DEI Expertise
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not buzzwords or afterthoughts. They require specialized knowledge, expertise, and a deep understanding of the complexities inherent in dismantling systemic barriers. Competent DEI officers possess the skills to navigate the nuances of intersectionality, unconscious bias, and cultural dynamics. Their guidance and leadership are crucial in shaping policies, fostering inclusive environments, and challenging the status quo. Without their expertise, we risk sliding backward and perpetuating disparities within academic medical centers.
Competent DEI officers also serve as catalysts for change, working tirelessly to dismantle barriers, advocate for inclusive policies, and create pathways for success. They foster a culture of belonging, where all individuals feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. By having competent DEI officers in place, an academic medical center can cultivate an environment that attracts and retains diverse talent, improves patient care, and advances research and innovation.
It’s important to recognize that academic medical centers have made strides in recent years in recognizing the importance of closing workforce disparity gaps. They have experienced the benefits of a diverse healthcare workforce from the bench to the bedside. These achievements are at risk without competent DEI officers and a supportive infrastructure. Those of us who recognize this progress must encourage investment in the resources, training, and systems necessary to sustain and advance the progress already made. Now more than ever, we must act. We must petition academic medical centers to prioritize the appointment of skilled DEI officers and establish robust infrastructures to support their work. We must advocate for resources, funding, and training to ensure DEI success. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on affirmative action reminds us of the urgent need to protect and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in academic medical centers. Competent DEI officers and supportive infrastructure are the guardians of progress, ensuring that every individual’s intellectual contributions are valued, regardless of the person’s racial or ethnic background. It is our collective responsibility to advocate for change, demand action, and build a future where academic medical centers are beacons of inclusivity, reflecting the vibrant tapestry of our diverse society. Let us not falter in our pursuit of equity, for the future of healthcare and the well-being of our communities depend on it.
Dr. Scott is assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and associate program director, Diverse and Inclusive Clinical Education for IM Residency, Montefiore Einstein Department of Medicine.