Supreme Court affirmative action ruling sparks healthcare concerns

The Supreme Court ruling that higher education institutions may not consider race when making admission decisions could have far-reaching consequences for the healthcare industry.

The ruling issued Thursday applies to public and private schools that receive federal funding and culminates legal challenges to the admissions polices at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. In 2014, applicants sued the colleges, arguing that applying affirmative action to admissions unfairly diminished their chances of being accepted. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled 6-3 in their favor.

Affirmative action has been instrumental to medical schools seeking to diversify their student bodies in order to address disparities in the healthcare system. Healthcare organizations have expressed concerns in the past that eliminating affirmative action would impede diversity efforts and worsen health inequities faced by Black and Hispanic populations.

In the aftermath of the historic decision, medical schools and the healthcare sector must reconsider a fundamental aspect of their long-term strategies for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Here’s what major healthcare institutions had to say about the ruling on Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, et al.:

Association of American Medical Colleges

“Today’s decision demonstrates a lack of understanding of the critical benefits of racial and ethnic diversity in educational settings and a failure to recognize the urgent need to address health inequities in our country.

“The AAMC, informed by decades of research, recognizes the undeniable benefits of diversity for improving the health of people everywhere. We remain committed to enhancing health professional education and practice by emphasizing critical thinking, innovation, effective communication with all patients and increased access to patient care for an increasingly diverse population. …

“The AAMC and its member institutions are committed to providing the most effective medical education and patient care. … We will work together to adapt following today’s court decision without compromising these goals. The health of everyone depends on it.”

– Dr. David Skorton, president and CEO, and Frank Trinity, chief legal officer

American Medical Association

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court undermines decades of progress centered on the educational value of diversity, and will reverse gains made in the battle against health inequities. This ruling restricts medical schools from considering race and ethnicity among the multiple factors in admissions policies and will translate into a less-diverse physician workforce. Diversity is vital to healthcare, and this court ruling deals a serious blow to our goal of increasing medical career opportunities for historically marginalized and minoritized people.

“While our country grows more diverse, historically marginalized communities have been left behind on nearly every health indicator. A physician workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation is key to eliminating racial inequities. There is convincing evidence that racially diverse care teams produce measurably positive health outcomes for patients in historically marginalized populations. The goal is not racially segregated care, but rather a healthcare workforce in which racial and ethnic representation is a more common aspect of care teams.”

– Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, president

Kaiser Permanente

“We are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in higher education. The decision fails to acknowledge the role diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity in both healthcare and education play in achieving healthy communities and will perpetuate inequities by making it more difficult to develop a healthcare workforce that meets the needs of diverse communities.

“Kaiser Permanente’s mission is to improve individual and community health. An integral part of delivering on this mission is addressing healthcare disparities and ensuring underrepresented communities see themselves reflected in our diverse care teams, physicians, and leadership and receive culturally appropriate and responsive care. The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine was founded with a vision to address systemic barriers that have contributed to healthcare and educational disparities in the US and equity, inclusion and diversity are core principles embedded at the school.

“The Supreme Court’s decision only further motivates us to address the stark underrepresentation that persists today in our American healthcare system. We will remain on our path to eliminate inequities and continue to champion diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity in both healthcare and education, believing firmly that such measures are key to achieving health for all.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a direct blow to people of color across the United States, who are already at risk of poor health outcomes. We know that racial diversity in healthcare literally saves lives: research and experience have shown time and time again that disparities in health outcomes decrease when patients are treated by healthcare professionals who have learned and worked alongside colleagues of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The best way to ensure diversity in the medical workforce is through holistic considerations of medical school candidates that take into account race, ethnicity, and the lived experiences that each candidate could bring to their career as a physician because of their background. Comprehensive consideration of each medical student candidate as an individual can only benefit the communities for which they will ultimately provide care.

“More diversity in healthcare means better-educated physicians; higher quality of care; and healthier people, families, and communities everywhere. Less diversity in healthcare can mean physicians who may be less equipped to connect with and treat the diverse patient populations they serve and patients with worse health outcomes, both of which cause entire communities to suffer.”

– Molly Meegan, general counsel and chief legal officer

American College of Physicians

“ACP believes that a diverse, equitable and inclusive physician workforce is crucial to promoting equity and understanding. Diversity in the healthcare workforce not only benefits underserved patients but improves care for all patients. Evidence has shown diverse populations in educational and medical training settings improves learning outcomes by increasing active thinking and intellectual engagement skills and increases understanding of and empathy for diverse cultures. A diverse physician workforce should include individuals of all races, including Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and other persons affected by discrimination to better reflect the population for whom we care. Considering race as one of the many determining factors used when considering an individual’s admission to an education program can be an important way to combat the harm that systemic racism and discrimination has in the United States.

“Affirmative action is one means of helping to promote that diversity. Medical schools and other institutions of higher education should consider a person’s race and ethnicity, alongside other factors that are often considered like socioeconomic status and geographic location, as part of evaluating applicants to counter both past and current discrimination. ACP will continue to advocate for policies that can help to increase diversity and promote equity.”

– Dr. Omar Atiq, president

American Psychiatric Association

“Race-conscious admissions policies are designed to address racial discrimination by recognizing and responding to the structural barriers that hinder access to higher education for underrepresented students. While the ramifications have yet to be fully determined, today’s decisions in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina undermine the ability of colleges, universities and medical schools to build a workforce of healthcare professionals that can effectively treat the increasingly diverse body of patients they serve.”

Morehouse School of Medicine

“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate the consideration of race for admission to colleges and universities will make it even more challenging to increase the number of minority physicians and other healthcare professionals, especially as health disparities continue to persist in Black and brown communities across the country. …

“Multiple studies have shown that health outcomes improve when a person is treated by a physician or healthcare professional of the same race. In addition, as the Association of American Medical Colleges has pointed out, students, no matter their race, who train in diverse settings are better able to treat patients from all backgrounds. …

“At a time when we should be using every measure to broaden the diversity of the healthcare profession and increasing the number of minority practitioners, the decision by the Supreme Court closes a door to a healthier future for everyone.

“Morehouse School of Medicine remains committed to leading the creation and advancement of health equity, and is therefore, focused on ensuring that all persons can achieve their optimal level of health. Having providers who are reflective of our country’s rich diversity supports that goal and makes healthcare more patient centered and culturally competent.”

Meharry Medical College

“Today the Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to millions of Black and brown Americans, far beyond college campuses. In the name of equity for the nation’s most privileged students, the affirmative action ban will amplify injustices from higher education to hospitals. We can expect the vast chasm of racial representation in healthcare to widen even further. As the number of Black and brown medical school graduates plummets, the ban will effectively rip away the hard-won lifeline of care for America’s most underserved populations.”

– Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO

American Public Health Association

“Colleges and universities across the country agree that a student’s grades and test scores alone are insufficient to select a student body that aligns with their educational goals and missions and that adequately represents the diverse U.S. population these professionals will serve. It is well documented that race and ethnicity play a major part in the identities and choices of applicants and institutions of higher education should be allowed to include considerations about race and ethnicity in their admissions process.

“For years the court understood the importance of institutions of higher education creating diverse student communities. This holds especially true when we consider the history of racist policies that severely limited or completely denied students of color access to higher education before affirmative action.

“Without affirmative action, we risk turning the clock back on years of progress that have led to improved outcomes and a more diverse public health and healthcare workforce.”

– Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director

American Cancer Society

“Diversifying our nation’s oncology healthcare and clinical research workforce is imperative to dismantle the inequalities that still exist in medical care today. Less than 3% of practicing oncologists in the U.S. self-identify as Black, while only 5.8% self-identify as Latinx or Hispanic. As the nation’s population further diversifies in the decades ahead, cancer patients will also be more diverse. Mounting evidence suggests when physicians and patients share the same race or ethnicity, this improves medication adherence and shared decision-making. Patients better understand their cancer risk and patient perceptions of treatment decisions. It is imperative that our future physicians and healthcare professionals reflect this shift to reduce barriers to equitable cancer care.”

Health and Human Services Department

“The Supreme Court ruling today weakens efforts to make higher education more accessible to members of historically underrepresented groups. People of color have been excluded from attending medical school and joining medical organizations for generations. While progress has been made, there is still a significant deficit in the number of Black and Latino doctors and medical students.

“We need more health workers, especially those who look like and share the experiences of the people they serve. This builds trust between provider and patient, and helps to improve the overall quality of care. This ruling will make it even more difficult for the nation’s colleges and universities to help create future health experts and workers that reflect the diversity of our great nation. The health and well-being of Americans will suffer as a result.”

– Secretary Xavier Becerra

White House

“The court has effectively ended affirmative action in college admissions and I strongly, strongly disagree with the court’s decision. … I believe our colleges are stronger when they are racially diverse. Our nation is stronger because we are tapping into the full range of talent. … I want to offer some guidance to our nation’s colleges as they review their admissions systems after today’s decision, guidance that is consistent with today’s decision: They should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experience that reflect all of America.”

– President Joe Biden

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina is a step backward for our nation. It rolls back long-established precedent and will make it more difficult for students from underrepresented backgrounds to have access to opportunities that will help them fulfill their full potential. …

“Our nation’s colleges and universities educate and train the next generation of American leaders. Students who sit in classrooms today will be the leaders of our government, military, private sector and academic institutions tomorrow. Today’s decision will impact our country for decades to come.”

– Vice President Kamala Harris


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