Changing accreditation standards improved medical school diversity: study

Healthcare innovation
New accreditation standards succeeded in increasing the diversity in U.S. medical schools, a new study found. (Getty/LightFieldStudios)

Almost 10 years ago, the organization that accredits U.S. medical schools issued two new requirements intended to increase the diversity of students studying to be physicians.

The effort apparently succeeded, according to a new study, which reports increased rates of women, black and Hispanic students studying in U.S. medical schools.

The research letter, published in JAMA, found an increased percentage of both women and minority students since 2009, when the Liaison Committee on Medical Education introduced two new standards. The standards mandated that U.S. medical schools undertake efforts to attract and retain students from diverse backgrounds and develop programs to broaden diversity among qualified applicants or risk their accreditation status.

Researchers used data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and reviewed the diversity of student populations at 210 medical schools from 2002 through 2017, calculating the annual percentage of female, black, Hispanic, Asian and white students. For that time period, the number of female, black, Hispanic and Asian students increased.

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Before the diversity standards were put in place, however, the percentage of female and black students had decreased annually, although percentages of Hispanic and Asian students were increasing. After the standards were implemented, the annual trend in the percentage of female and black students reversed, increasing significantly.

“The standards do make a difference,” lead author Dowin H. Boatright, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine, told Yale News. “It is a tool that diversity advocates didn’t have before to implement diversity programs.”

While diversity in medical schools has increased, the physician workforce is still dominated by white, male doctors.

“While the results are promising, disparities in physician workforce diversity persist,” the study authors wrote, suggesting medical schools that successfully implemented programs to adhere to accreditation standards could serve as models for further improving physician diversity.

RELATED: Medical school diversity concerns raised following Trump administration reversal on race consideration

Some of the largest gains in the push for diversity came for women, as the number of female medical students increased from 49% in 2002 to 50.4% in 2017. In fact, in the healthcare industry first, the overall incoming class among U.S. medical students in 2017 contained more women than men.

Still, those statistics come at a time when the industry continues its stubborn resistance to pay equality, which also persists among physician assistants and nurses.

Worries also continue about maintaining the gains made toward diversity. The AAMC earlier this year raised concerns that the Trump administration's recent rescission of guidance to consider race in university admissions might threaten efforts to improve diversity at medical schools. The administration said it would no longer support guidance created under the Obama administration encouraging schools to take a student's race into account in their admissions.