Survey of medical students affirms value of student diversity

BOSTON, MA--Racial and ethnic diversity in the student population is a positive influence that helps medical students work more effectively with patients of different backgrounds, according to a study in the May Academic Medicine, the journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The findings were cited in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the University of Michigan affirmative action case.

In conducting the survey, faculty at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education used telephone interviews to reach students at Harvard and the University of California, San Francisco medical schools. Fifty-five percent of the students were reached and 96 percent of these responded. The ethnic and racial composition of the students surveyed was comparable to the makeup of U.S. medical students as a whole.

Asked if interaction with students of diverse backgrounds was a positive element in their educational experience at medical school, 94 percent of the students agreed, and the responses did not differ significantly among races. Seventy-six percent indicated that a diverse student body improved their ability to care for patients of different races, while only 4 percent said diversity was little or no help.

"I think this is simply a recognition of the fact they're going to be practicing in a multicultural society, and since little of the multicultural component is going to come from faculty, it has to come from other students," said lead author Dean Whitla, director of the Counseling and Consulting Psychology Program and lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Of perhaps even more relevance to the Supreme Court case is that 90 percent of all students believed that affirmative action should be strengthened or maintained at medical schools, while only 3 percent thought it should be discontinued.

"There are very few data that address students' own perceptions of the role of

Contact: John Lacey
Harvard Medical School

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