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Why DEI Matters in Medical Education

Photo of a male Latino doctor wearing blue scrubs, glasses and a stethoscope

Commentary by Michellene Davis, Esq., NMF President and CEO

A KFF survey published just a few months ago found that A full 22% of Black adults who were pregnant or gave birth in the past ten years say they were refused pain medication they needed, roughly twice the share of white adults with a pregnancy or birth experience.

Yet, as I reflect on the past two decades, I am heartened to see the strides made in incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training within medical schools and residency programs. These initiatives are vital to improving patient experiences, combatting pervasive biases and dismantling system racism in medicine, all of which have contributed to stark health disparities among chronically underserved populations.

Even with this progress, we urgently need to accelerate these efforts because people’s lives hang in the balance.

A landmark report from the Institute of Medicine, now under the National Academies of Medicine, shed light on persistent racial and ethnic health inequities in the U.S. While some progress has been made over the past 22 years, many of these disparities endure, underscoring the need for intensive efforts to dismantle systemic and structural barriers to equitable health care access and outcomes.

Today, the discourse on racism faces challenges, including denial of the existence and impact of systemic racism in medicine and efforts to ban DEI programs in medical education. Legislation like the proposed EDUCATE Act is an attempt to roll back advancements in health equity by cutting federal support for DEI initiatives in medical schools. Similar bills are being introduced and enacted in states across the country. We must vehemently oppose such regressive measures and uphold our commitment to cultivating culturally competent health care providers.

Here is what we know.  A 2023 study published in JAMA found that Black patients have better outcomes when treated by Black primary care doctors — experiences longer life expectancy and lower mortality. Thus, the need for a diverse health care workforce has never been more critical. Further, a 2022 study published in JCO Oncology practice found that language-concordant care was associated with higher patient satisfaction, better communication, and improved quality of life among Hispanic cancer patients.

Addressing health disparities requires multifaceted approaches, from prioritizing interventions that tackle structural racism to fostering inclusive environments within health care settings. And, as National Medical Fellowships is doing, it is essential that we work to improve the racial and ethnic diversity of medical students and practicing physicians.

By nurturing diversity in the medical workforce and promoting equitable practices, we can pave the way for enduring change and improved health outcomes for all.