CHICAGO — With the Supreme Court set to make a major ruling on the fate of affirmative action in the coming days, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted policy at the Annual Meeting of its House of Delegates recognizing the consideration of race in admissions as a necessary safeguard in undergraduate and medical education to support a diverse physician workforce. Research has demonstrated that achieving a physician workforce that more closely resembles the populations physicians serve will result in better health outcomes for our nation. This is essential for advancing our ability to deliver high-quality care to an increasingly diverse patient population. 

“Efforts to do away with affirmative action undermine decades of progress in creating a diverse physician workforce and will reverse gains made in the battle against health disparities,” said Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, president-elect of the AMA. “We must bolster the pool of underrepresented students who wish to pursue a career in medicine and the consideration of race is one of many parts of the equation—along with test scores, grades, and interviews—when determining the mix of students that will result in a class of physicians best equipped to serve all of the nation’s patients. We cannot back down from efforts to boost the growing representation of talented and highly qualified medical students from historically marginalized groups.”

The new policy urges medical school and undergraduate admissions committees to proactively implement policies and procedures that support race-conscious admission practices. The policy emphasizes the AMA’s unequivocal opposition to legislation that would dissolve affirmative action or punish institutions for employing race-conscious admissions. Several states that have instituted bans on affirmative action have experienced subsequent decreases in college enrollment and completion of STEM degrees by underrepresented students. 

The Supreme Court’s pending decisions will have significant implications for higher education in the U.S., including medical school enrollment. A ruling prohibiting race as a consideration in admissions would reduce diversity just as focused recruitment campaigns and other strategies are beginning to succeed. The AMA and more than 40 other organizations joined an Association of American Medical Colleges-led amicus brief (PDF) that urges the Supreme Court to “take no action that would disrupt the admissions processes the nation’s health-professional schools have carefully crafted in reliance on this court’s longstanding precedents.”

Editor’s note: An AMA Viewpoint was published in advance of the Supreme Court arguments to discuss what is at stake in this decision.

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The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care.  The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.