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A significant body of evidence suggests that minority race adversely affects the quantity and quality of health care provided to minority patients. Although no one has documented systemic overt racism among health care providers, persistent inequities in the delivery of health care services pose serious problems for patients of color. Ultimately, the medical establishment must confront the reality that African Americans and other racial minorities often do not receive equal treatment in the health care system.

The continued implementation of affirmative action programs as part of the medical school admissions process plays a key role in improving health care delivery for patients of all races. Diversity in the medical school classroom guarantees diversity in the physician workforce. This in turn increases access to care for underserved patients and provides many patients of color with the opportunity to receive care from a physician with whom they can communicate effectively and whom they trust. Ideally, diversity in medical education also helps all physicians in training to develop crucial communication skills and to break down racial, cultural, and religious stereotypes so that all medical school graduates will be equipped to communicate with and provide optimal care for patients whose race or background differs from their own.

For now, race-conscious admissions policies play an essential role in guaranteeing racial and ethnic diversity in medical schools and in improving the odds that medical schools will graduate "culturally competent "physicians. These combined circumstances suggest that the grounds for maintaining programs of affirmative action in medical school admissions are perhaps more compelling than in many other higher education contexts. The Supreme Court's conclusion in Grutter that racial diversity in the classroom represents a compelling governmental interest serves as an important step towards achieving racial justice in health care because it gives medical schools permission to take carefully considered affirmative steps to admit diverse classes of qualified students. Nevertheless, affirmative action in higher education remains constitutionally and socially controversial and universities utilizing race-conscious admissions policies should not become complacent. Medical schools should be prepared to consider alternative strategies to achieving diversity and simultaneously should take a hard look at curriculum choices in order to maximize the impact of medical education for the patients they serve.

Recommended Citation

40 Conn. L. Rev. 675 (2008)