Historically, Caucasian males have dominated the medical field. As the U.S. becomes a more ethnically pluralistic society, it is odd to see how little the profession has changed. There are numerous reasons why this diversity gap exists in medicine but they all have a source in common: the MCAT.
In 1986, Johns Hopkins briefly discontinued using the exam as a basis for entry in order to encourage more diverse applicants. Recent studies have shown Johns Hopkins’s assumptions were correct. A study published in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2006 stated the gap between the average scores between black and white students prevented many qualified black students from entering medical school. Since U.S. medical schools now rely so heavily on the MCAT, many qualified students are denied entry to medical school because of this gap.
MCAT scores can be heavily influenced by an examinee’s background. In a study published in Academic Medicine: the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in May 2013, black and Latino examinees’ mean MCAT scores were lower than white examinees, much like other standardized exams. Though the same study said there was no test bias in the MCAT itself, it does admit that other background factors, such as socioeconomic and geographical differences, could be the reason why there is this gap in performance. The study also admits that if U.S. medical schools decide to have a greater emphasis on the MCAT, it would decrease the percentages of minority applicants selected for entry into medical school.
A recent article in the New York Times highlighted how medical schools now lack a diverse student body because of these admissions policies. In a class filled with Caucasian students, the author of the article could only count the number of minorities on one hand. In a 2011 AAMC study of the total applicants that year, 54.6% were white while only 7.3% were black and 7.9% were Latino. Overall acceptance rates were lower for black applicants (39%) compared to white applicants (48%).
Ethnic diversity is not the only diversity gap in medicine. There is also a gender gap in medicine and medical school in general. While the gender gap is narrowing (in fact, more women applied to medical school than men in the early 2000s), that trend is also reversing itself. After 2007, more men were applying than women were and more men were matriculating.
A lack of ethnic and gender diversity in the medical community negatively affects society in numerous ways. In the same AAMC study, a majority of black matriculating medical students (54.6%) said they were planning to practice in an underserved area. The numbers were also high for Latinos (36%) and American Indians (33.6%). With a lack of physicians in these underserved areas, people will have to wait a long time for a physician and will not have easy access to one. These matriculating students also came from diverse areas while white matriculating students came from areas that were mostly or all white. This gives them a better insight into what these underserved communities need for their medical care.
American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine was founded with a mission to help more under-representative minorities join the medical field. That’s why AUA does not look at MCAT scores when it screens its applicants. Some U.S. medical schools are rethinking their approach to admissions because they too are beginning to realize the impact of this gap on the medical field. Like AUA has been doing for years, they are taking a holistic approach to its applicants instead of relying more on an MCAT score. Hopefully, this trend will expand and allow more under-representative minorities the opportunity to pursue a career in medicine.