Guest Editorial: Affirmative Action

Sally Satel, MD


November 16, 2001

In This Article


Affirmative action in medical school admissions is alive and well. Not since the Supreme Court's 1978 decision on Alan Bakke's famous reverse discrimination case has there been much open debate regarding the wisdom of racial preferences in medicine. There should be.

The fact that only 10% of the physician workforce comprises minorities has led the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and other medical organizations to champion racial preferences as a way to reach proportionality with the general population. These proponents offer 2 basic arguments to justify racial preferences in medical school admissions.

The first is that only minority doctors can meet the health needs of a growing minority population. They are, reasoning goes, more sensitive to other minorities and can develop stronger rapport with them than can white doctors. In addition, minority doctors are more willing to work in underserved (eg, minority and/or impoverished) areas. The second argument is that lowering admission standards (grades and MCAT scores) will not affect the quality of medical school graduates because it is noncognitive factors that are equally good, perhaps better, at predicting who will make a good physician.


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