Survey of medical students affirms value of student diversity

diversity in the classroom," said Joan Reede, HMS dean for diversity and community partnership and one of the study's authors. "In terms of medical education, diversity opens people's eyes to the kinds of issues, perspectives, and populations they're going to be treating in the future."

"I think this study is important in that it modifies the dialogue to incorporate not only what administration and faculty deem to be important but also to include what students think is important," Reede added.

The survey began by asking students about their interactions with students of different races. Interaction increased steadily through their educational lives; on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being often and 1 none, 50 percent of students rated their interaction with those of other races as a 4 or 5 before and during secondary school; 67 percent gave that high rating for their college years; and 85 percent did so for medical school.

"It was surprising that students hadn't had a great deal of contact with students of different backgrounds until they went to college, and that was true for both African Americans and for the whole student body, in fact. But 90 percent of them had friends of a different racial or ethnic background when they left medical school," said Whitla.

Eighty-four percent of students surveyed believed that diversity improved classroom discussions, leading to more examples and increased discussion of alternative viewpoints, though they did not think that diversity necessarily led to higher levels of intellectual conflict or challenge.

The researchers said that some majority students commented in open-ended questions that high diversity was an important factor in their choice of medical school and they felt that it was an honor to be chosen at a school known for efforts to recruit minorities.

These high numbers were unexpected. "If you do a lot of social science research, you don't expect to find such overwhelm

Contact: John Lacey
Harvard Medical School

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