Purpose: To review the literature on the social and learning environments experienced by underrepresented minority (URM) medical students to determine what type of interventions are needed to eliminate potential barriers to enrolling and retaining URM students.
Method: The authors searched MEDLINE, PubMed, Ovid HealthStar, and Web of Science, and the reference lists of included studies, published between January 1, 1980, and September 15, 2012. Studies of the learning and social environments and of students’ satisfaction, experiences with discrimination or unfair practices, and academic performance or progress, as well as assessments of programs or interventions to improve URM students’ academic performance, were eligible for inclusion.
Results: The authors identified 28 studies (27 unique data sets) meeting the inclusion criteria. The results of the included studies indicated that URM students experienced less supportive social and less positive learning environments, were subjected to discrimination and racial harassment, and were more likely to see their race as having a negative impact on their medical school experiences than non-URM students. Academic performance on standardized exams was worse, progress less timely, and attrition higher for URM students as well.
Conclusions: For URM students, an adverse climate may be decreasing the attractiveness of careers in medicine, impairing their academic performance, and increasing attrition. Improvements to the social and learning environments experienced by URM students are needed to make medicine a more inclusive profession. The current environment of health care reform creates an opportunity for institutions to implement strategies to achieve this goal.