Medical schools have a long history of using race-conscious admissions practices as a starting point in addressing racial health inequities that are present in the United States. When compared to their white peers, racially and ethnically diverse medical school students are more likely to go on to serve in communities of color or be sought out by patients of color, thus improving access to and quality of medical care for underrepresented populations. For example, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black males received more effective care when they were treated by a black doctor.
However, race-conscious admissions policies have recently come under fire, leading to policymakers banning them in eight states – including Texas from 1996 to 2003.
Liliana Garces, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, has researched how these bans are diminishing the proportion of students of color who are enrolling in medical schools.
In this study, Garces and her co-author examine whether the enrollment drop can be attributed to a decline in the proportion of applications received or a drop in the admission rates of students of color.
The study, Addressing Racial Health Inequities: Understanding the Impact of Affirmative Action Bans on Applications and Admissions in Medical Schools, found that the enrollment drop was driven by admissions, not applications, showing that the bans influenced changes in behavior on an institutional level, not the student level.
Admission rates of underrepresented students of color faced a larger rate of decline than the proportion of applications received from these students, showing that the changes in behavior were on an institutional level, not the student level.
“Prohibiting race-conscious admissions hurts efforts in the field of medicine to become more racially and ethnically diverse and that, in turn, has very negative consequences for the field of medicine’s ability to address health disparities in our society, to improve quality of care, to provide better treatment, and to have healthier populations,” says Garces.
While some universities have attempted to minimize the effects of these bans by expanding outreach efforts for students of color, Garces explains that medical schools could increase consideration of race-related factors such as socioeconomic status or demonstrations that a student has overcome adversity. They could also decrease emphasis on factors that don’t fully predict academic success, such as MCAT scores, to counteract the impact of these bans.
Liliana Garces’s extensive work related to race-conscious admissions policies also includes an op-ed in Science Magazine, a co-authored amicus curiae brief supporting Harvard University’s use of race-conscious admissions, a co-authored report on the recent challenges to affirmative action policies, and co-authoring of an article that examines policy guidance given from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights during the Obama Administration.