To the Editor:
There are general misconceptions that Asian American medical students do not experience racial discrimination and should therefore be excluded from diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations. However, White medical students are 2 times more likely than Asian American students to enter the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, even after controlling for United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 scores and extracurricular activities. 1 White students are also significantly more likely to be described as “empathetic” and “compassionate” than Asian American students, 2 playing into the stereotype that Asian Americans are less warm than their White counterparts. Furthermore, there is significant underrepresentation among U.S. medical school leadership, with Asian American deans increasing from only 0 to 1 in the last 20 years. 3 There is also no public data on Asian subgroups in U.S. residency and beyond. Despite these examples of discrimination across the medical education continuum, Asian American medical students continue to be excluded from conversations of racism in medicine and, as a result, struggle to share their experiences with harassment and discrimination. 4
At the medical-school level, we believe the best ways to address discrimination issues faced by Asian American medical students are (1) to include mandatory coursework on the disaggregated Asian American racism and health disparities experiences, (2) to intentionally include Asian American students in DEI conversations, and (3) to conduct research on the Asian American medical student experience to better understand their specific needs.
At the national level, we believe that (1) reporting disaggregated data in U.S. medical schools, residencies, and the physician working force and (2) comparing that data with U.S. census data could foster more nuanced DEI discussions.
1. Boatright D, Ross D, O'Connor P, Moore E, Nunez-Smith M. Racial disparities in medical student membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177:659–665.
2. Ross DA, Boatright D, Nunez-Smith M, Jordan A, Chekroud A, Moore EZ. Differences in words used to describe racial and gender groups in Medical Student Performance Evaluations. PLoS One. 2017;12:e0181659.
3. Ko M, Ton H. The not underrepresented minorities: Asian Americans, diversity, and admissions. Acad Med. 2020;95:184–189.
4. Ahn DJ, Garg N, Naik AG, et al. Where do I fit in? A perspective on challenges faced by Asian American medical students. Health Equity. 2021;5:324–328.