KCU, medical schools cite role of diversity amid affirmative action ruling

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Jul. 7—Kansas City University and other medical schools across the country say they remain committed to diversity on their campuses after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling last month, gutted affirmative action.

The high court in late June struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor. The court's conservative majority effectively overturned cases reaching back 45 years in invalidating admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation's oldest private and public colleges, respectively.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long, universities have "concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice."

But many medical schools and associations were quick to denounce the ruling, arguing that the elimination of affirmative action practices at their campuses could lead to a less diverse workforce of physicians, which in turn could harm patients belonging to minority and historically marginalized groups.

"While our country grows more diverse, historically marginalized communities have been left behind on nearly every health indicator," said Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, president of the American Medical Association, in a statement. "A physician workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation is key to eliminating racial inequities."

Ehrenfeld cited research published in 2019 in the American Economic Review that studied the demand for preventive care among Black men in California. The study found that the patients who were assigned to a Black doctor were more likely to ask for preventive services and seek the doctor's advice.

A separate study of more than 1.8 million hospital births in Florida between 1992 and 2015 found that when Black newborns were cared for by Black physicians, their risk of mortality was halved. The study was published in 2020 in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

"There is convincing evidence that racially diverse care teams produce measurably positive health outcomes for patients in historically marginalized populations," Ehrenfeld said. "The goal is not racially segregated care, but rather a health care workforce in which racial and ethnic representation is a more common aspect of care teams."

Kansas City University, which has an osteopathic medical school and a new dental school in Joplin, has valued diversity since its inception more than a century ago, said Dr. Marc Hahn, president and CEO, in a statement to the Globe.

"We embrace diversity because it makes us stronger, it makes us more competitive and it is the right thing to do," he said in the emailed statement. "We do not embrace diversity at the expense of merit, and we have always offered opportunities to those who have historically been shut out and support to all those willing to work hard to be successful."

Hahn said KCU will remain committed to its mission of improving the well-being of the communities it serves, which could mean looking for alternate ways to prioritize diversity.

"We cannot accomplish our mission without our campuses reflecting everyone we serve," he said. "Kansas City University remains committed to achieving a diverse student body in meaningful ways that ensure we always follow our core values of excellence, equity and empathy. For without that, we cannot achieve our vision of changing health care for good."

In a statement, officials with the Association of American Medical Colleges said they were "deeply disappointed" with the court's ruling in part because of the negative impact it could have on research in the areas of health and wellness.

"The AAMC believes that a diverse and inclusive biomedical research workforce with individuals from historically excluded and underrepresented groups in biomedical research is critical to gathering the range of perspectives needed to identify and solve the complex scientific problems of today and tomorrow," the association said in the statement from Dr. David J. Skorton, president and CEO, and Frank Trinity, chief legal officer. "The AAMC and its member institutions are committed to providing the most effective medical education and patient care, as well as advancing scientific discovery to improve lives in our communities. We will work together to adapt following (the) court decision without compromising these goals. The health of everyone depends on it."