Don’t Impose DEI at Med Schools

Medical school graduation

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), medical students should learn to practice “allyship” when “witnessing injustice” such as “microaggression[s],” medical residents should use their “knowledge of intersectionality to inform clinical decisions,” and medical school faculty should teach “how systems of power, privilege, and oppression inform policies and practices” as well as “how to engage with systems to disrupt oppressive practices.”

These are just a few of the AAMC’s newly introduced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Skills, a set of guidelines for advancing “health equity” in medical curricula. The competencies function as a blueprint for injecting the watchwords of identity politics—”intersectionality,” “white privilege,” “microaggression,” “allyship”—into medical education. They will almost inevitably hamper free expression, politicize medical education, and lead to substantively harmful policies. Unfortunately, medical schools are primed to take the prescription.

In 2020, the activist group White Coats 4 Black Lives, a medical student chapter organization that calls for prison abolition, defunding the police, and “queer and trans liberation,” elicited DEI strategic plans at medical schools across the country. Accreditors, likewise, increasingly demand far-reaching DEI policies in medical schools and residency programs, as the AAMC notes in its report on the new competencies. As a result, DEI programming and policies pervade medical education. UNC Chapel Hill employs 24 DEI officers—eight of them work for the medical school.

Unsurprisingly, some medical schools already show an eagerness to adopt the competencies. In 2021, the Anti-Racism Task Force at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons recommended drawing from the competencies upon their release—as did the Diversity Task Forces at Indiana University’s School of Medicine. UT Austin’s Dell Medical School has adopted a list of “health equity” competencies for its undergraduate medical students.

Other medical schools, meanwhile, rush to establish DEI requirements for evaluation, promotion, and tenure. In the Oregon Health and Science University’s “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Strategic Action Plan,” one step reads: “Develop and incorporate DEI, anti-racism and social justice core competencies in performance appraisals of faculty and staff. Include a section in annual performance reviews of staff and faculty on how the employee is contributing to improving DEI, anti-racism and social justice.” With these policies already promised at many medical schools, the AAMC’s competencies meet a growing demand.

Medical school graduation
WESTWOOD, CA – MAY 30: Atmosphere as David Geffen, philanthropist and entertainment mogul, received the UCLA Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the university, during the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLAs Hippocratic Oath Ceremony on May 30, 2014 at Westwood, California.
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

This is bad news for medical education. Consider, for instance, medical students who object to the mainstream understanding of anti-racism or social justice; the medical researcher who is skeptical of the orthodoxy on “gender-affirming care” for minors; or the professor who rejects the relevance of “microaggressions,” “race-consciousness,” and “intersectionality” for medical practice. In each case, a formal set of DEI standards can easily become a cudgel to punish opposing viewpoints—especially if those standards use the AAMC’s politically loaded language.

Inscribing the watchwords of identity politics into medical education harms academic freedom and open discourse, tilting the scale in favor of a narrow orthodoxy. It also ensures a more politicized medical education. Many people reject “intersectionality” and “microaggressions” as helpful concepts. By encoding them into educational standards, the competencies will blur the lines between physician and activist.

Worst of all, DEI standards will likely lead to substantively harmful medical policy. It was in the name of “equity” that the states of New York, Utahand Minnesota embraced disaster race-based allocation guidelines for COVID treatment. Meanwhile, as Finnish, Swedenand France put the breaks on “gender-affirming” medicine for minors, it remains immensely difficult for American physicians to object. Formal DEI competencies will only increase the pressure—as differing opinions can themselves be characterized as “microaggressions” or “oppressive practices.”

We can only hope that those in medical schools speak out and oppose the adoption of these competencies. If they don’t, they might soon find that DEI is a poison, not a cure.

John D. Sailer is a fellow at the National Association of Scholars.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.


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