Why does diversity matter in medical school?

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What does diversity in medical school mean? Is it about where you come from, your race, your gender, your ethnicity, your religion, your sexual orientation? Or is it more? Is it about your experiences, what you bring to the table (or in our case patient interactions), or how your background and perspective will shape the care of your patients? Across the country every day we hear stories of discrimination, violence, bigotry, hatred, and racism. While we would like to believe that the medical community is immune to these things, however we, in fact, are not. Medical care in Memphis has been through a long, rough history including segregated hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s. Not until 1964, did the first African American graduate from The University of Tennessee College of Medicine. However, we have come a long way.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is the main medical campus for the UT system and is located in Memphis, TN with satellite locations in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville. When students apply and are accepted to UTHSC College of Medicine (COM), they spend the first two years in Memphis. For clinical rotations (years 3 and 4), students rotate at several locations around the state.

Upon coming to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis as a resident in 2010, I was immediately struck by the diversity of our medical school. I grew up in the mid‐west. My high school was not very diverse. While we had some diversity in our medical school class, the majority of us had gone straight through from undergraduate to medical school without any previous work experience or so‐called “gap” year(s). Not only were the students ethnically diverse in Memphis, but they also had a wide range of experiences with 67% of the entering class taking one or more year(s) “off” in between college and medical school. Now serving as a faculty mentor to M1 and M2 students, I am amazed at the experiences these young adults have had before coming to medical school. Some have pursued global health, some have worked in fields outside of medicine for a year or many years, some have received graduate level degrees, and some have traveled.

The UTHSC COM admissions office is also serious about diversity. As a state school, we seek to provide excellent, affordable education for in‐state students but cast a wider net and invite out of state students to experience what we have to offer in Memphis as well. Dr. Nelson Strother (Assistant Dean of Admissions and Student Affairs) and Dr. Gerald Presbury (Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Member of the Admissions Committee) spoke with me about diversity at UTHSC. The COM has had a holistic admissions review for decades. This type of review encompasses not only academic performance, but also leadership, community service, co‐ curricular activities, altruism, communication skills, distance traveled, and motivation for pursuing a career in medicine. As one might imagine, the type of student you get from this review comes with a breadth and depth of experiences, has the character traits we want to foster in future physicians, and has the desire to endure the rigors of medical training.

In the traditional sense of diversity, our matriculating student body consists of about 15% minority populations which include underrepresented minorities in medicine (African American, American Indian/Native American, Latino), disadvantaged young adults, students from rural background, military personnel, and first‐generation Americans. But what does all this mean for medical education? The culture of the United States is ever changing and our country is becoming more and more diverse. Our medical trainees and future physicians should be representative of our vastly diverse country. UTHSC is taking steps to improve the diversity of our professional programs.

UTHSC is the destination campus for the Health Careers Program in partnership with the Tennessee Institutes for Pre‐Professionals (TIP). This unique program offers African American undergraduate students enrolled in Tennessee public colleges and universities the opportunity to gain exposure to careers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, or law. The program has three summer tracks. The first is open to freshman and sophomore students to engage in clinical shadowing. The second track focuses on professional school exam preparation. While the third track is offered as an introduction to the first‐year curriculum for students with provisional acceptance to a professional school. By encouraging underrepresented minorities and underprivileged students in medicine, we are giving these students the opportunity to fulfill their goals and reach out to their communities. They become resources in their field of medicine and can bring new knowledge to their communities. They have empathy and compassion.

For the many youths living in poverty in Memphis, we hope to provide a path such that they too can achieve their dreams and have an impact on their community. We are fostering a sense of community here in Memphis; to teach our students to understand what our patients go through on a daily basis and how we as medical providers and educators can set them up for success.

Nearly a century after women’s suffrage and decades after desegregation, there are still inequities for diverse students and physicians in medicine. An African American female physician colleague once told me that she was mistaken for the “WIC (Women Infant Children) lady” while rounding on a newborn infant in the hospital. As a female physician, I have been mistaken for a nurse countless times (which is actually a compliment since we have excellent nurses at Le Bonheur). Though not malicious in intent, these situations would never present themselves to a middle‐aged Caucasian male physician. It is time, now more than ever, to embrace diversity in medicine and support our fellow trainees and physicians. Memphis is a great place to live, train, and work. The diversity we see in colleagues, trainees, and patients is ever growing.

**get some articles here supporting diversity in medical school and how students go back to their communities.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Drs. Strother and Presbury for their time and insight in creating this article, and to Dr. Cross and countless others like her who have endured and persevered.

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