Purpose: Many U.S. medical schools have abandoned affirmative action, limiting the recruitment and reducing the admission of underrepresented minority (URM) students even though research supports the premise that the public benefits from an increase in URM physicians and that URM physicians are likely to serve minority, poor, and Medicaid populations. Faculty and students commonly assume they benefit from peer cultural exchange, and the published evidence for the past two decades supports this notion. This research examined the students' perceptions of the educational merits of a diverse student body by surveying medical students at two schools.
Method: In 2000, medical students from all four years at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine were enrolled in a telephone survey about the relevance of racial diversity (among students) in their medical education. Students responded to the interviewer's questions on a five-point Likert-type scale.
Results: Of the 55% of students who could be located, 97% responded to the survey. Students reported having little intercultural contact during their formative years but significantly more interactions during higher education years, especially in medical school. Students reported contacts with diverse peers greatly enhanced their educational experience. They strongly supported strengthening or maintaining current affirmative action policies in admissions. The responses and demography of the Harvard and UCSF students did not differ significantly, nor did they differ for majority students and URM students—all groups overwhelmingly thought that racial and ethnic diversity among their peers enhanced their education.
Conclusions: Diversity in the student body enhanced the educational experiences of students in two U.S. medical schools.