So claims a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Inside Higher Ed summarizes:
The study found that white students who attend medical schools with greater racial and ethnic diversity in the student body are more likely to rate themselves as highly prepared to care for minority populations. Those white students within the highest quintile for student body diversity, measured by the proportion of underrepresented minority students, were 33 percent more likely to rate themselves as highly prepared to care for minority patients than were those in the lowest diversity quintile. The correlation between diversity and preparedness to care for minority patients was highest at medical schools where students perceived a high degree of interracial interaction.
IHE asked me for comment, and some of my response is included in the article. Here’s the complete e-mail I sent their reporter:
I find this research very unpersuasive. Some of the flaws: (1) The fact that it is based on self-rating makes it dubious; (2) even if the self-ratings are accurate, it does not follow that the diversity of the student body is what causes the higher self-rating (indeed, artificial diversity created by double standards and preferences may create friction that makes the “positive interaction”–which the article says is essential–harder); (3) even if the self-rating is accurate AND the diversity of the student body causes the higher self-rating, it does not follow that the only way to achieve these cross-cultural skills is through a diverse student body (versus, for instance, simply teaching the cross-cultural skills, which are not rocket science–or brain surgery, if you like–in class); and (4) even if 1 and 2 and 3, it does not follow that the improved cross-cultural skills are worth the price of discrimination (which includes not only the unfairness of admitting less qualified students, but that those students may not even graduate/pass the medical exams, and the fact that, even if they do, these students may not provide the quality of care that students selected on the merits would).
A separate argument is made in the penultimate paragraph (that is, not that the white students are better trained, but that URM students are more likely to practice in underserved areas), but that argument is unpersuasive, too. It was rejected by Powell as not empirically shown in Bakke; even if the new data are more persuasive, it does not follow that the only or best way to improve service in underserved communities is by admitting students who are less qualified, in the hopes that they will end up there. The poster student for affirmative action in Bakke ended up butchering women in underserved areas, and eventually lost his medical license. A better approach would be to admit the best qualified students, and provide them incentives (through, for instance, scholarships) if they agree to begin practice in underserved areas; or medical schools could themselves open clinics and provide residencies in such areas — but, again, for the best qualified students.