Diversity in medical education has been a hot topic for decades. Higher education institutions across US and Canada are increasingly focused on adding diversity initiatives to their on-campus life and medical schools are no exception. You’ll find that almost every medical school in Canada and the US now focuses on diversity in education as part of their long-term and short-term goals. That’s why there are so many diversity initiatives in med schools aimed at ensuring the medical school population reflects the diverse and multi-cultural nature of the patient population.
In this blog, we list ten of the best diversity initiatives in medical schools across the US and Canada, and explain how they work and what makes them great.
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If you’re a student applying to medical school, you’ll definitely have come across various diversity initiatives and programs focused on encouraging students from all different backgrounds to apply to med school. From diversity secondary essays to medical school scholarships benefitting students from underrepresented minorities, there’s no doubt that medical schools are attempting to address the imbalance in their own student populations. Having said that, how successful are they? Do these initiatives work? How much farther do we still have to go?
Diversity in medical school is a hot-topic issue today, as researchers continue to study numbers and analyze the data to figure out why marginalized and disadvantaged communities continue to be underrepresented among medical professionals and especially practicing physicians.
For instance, a few years ago, the New England Journal of Medicine completed a ten-year study of medical school enrollment data and found that while there was an encouraging 30% increase in net number of residents from underrepresented groups, the overall proportion of these students vis-à-vis the total student population had actually dropped from 15% to 13%! Such findings, along with other studies on the same topic, motivated universities to set up more effective diversity initiatives in med schools. The goals of these initiatives can vary: some seek to encourage more students from underrepresented communities to apply to med school, while others want to identify and implement measures to correct biases in the hiring process. Many aim to improve the on-campus experience for minority students and provide them with effective community support, tools, and resources to help them counter bias and injustice and succeed in their academic and professional life.
Let’s take a look at some of the best diversity initiatives in med schools across the US and Canada:
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#1 Oregon Health and Science University
The OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) at the Oregon Health and Science University offers many fantastic diversity initiatives aimed at making campus life more inclusive and comfortable for students from different backgrounds. Their first official diversity plan was implemented in 2010, and since then they have created many new initiatives aimed at serving the community and representing different demographics in their student population.
The CDI conducts many different events, including webinars, conferences, and celebrations, to address key issues related to diversity and representation in their med school campus. They also offer a detailed list of resources and support tools for students from minority backgrounds, from tie-ups with local community organizations, to multi-cultural on-campus festivals, student research programs, and student resources groups.
They also have a multi-million-dollar budget to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in their med school. They utilize this budget to fund studies and institute oversight into how to address bias in hiring practices and curriculums, and to provide unconscious bias training to all employees. Specifically, good work has been done by their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee led by their internal medicine residents. They partner with local communities to offer mentorship and assistance, propose strategies to recruit more diverse batch of residents every year, identify ways to address biases in med school curriculums, set up initiatives to raise money for anti-racism organizations, and so on.
#2 University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine
The University of Missouri-Columbia might not be an obvious candidate for most diverse campus in the US, but their School of Medicine actually offers one of the most active, effective diversity programs in the country. Their Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, established in 2001, work towards creating a diverse on-campus environment and advancing cultural competency, equity, inclusion, and respect for minority students. The council runs several committees specifically charged with ensuring diversity in student recruitment, addressing bias in employee training, and encouraging student success. They also run an annual Diversity Symposium bringing together different departments of their School of Medicine to create and update goals of working towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment.
They offer several diversity initiatives aimed at supporting students and residents from diverse backgrounds. The School of Medicine Multicultural Affairs group or SOMMA offers impressive initiatives including Students in Medicine Academia Research and Training or “SMART”, a student mentoring program for “first generation” students (i.e., students whose parents did not attend college) or students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. MACS, or the Multicultural Advisory Community of Students, leads several student associations for diverse groups including LGBT alliances, alliances for women in medicine, Latino medical student alliances, and so on.
Besides the above initiatives, they offer a host of resources for students from disadvantaged backgrounds including scholarships, conferences, receptions, mentoring programs, academic support, and stringent mistreatment reporting.
#3 University of California, Davis School of Medicine
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office at the University of California, Davis, offers one of the most wide-ranging, holistic, end-to-end programs to address the issues of discrimination, injustice, and underrepresentation in their medical school campus. The Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Science (CAMPOS) offers the ADVANCE Scholar Award that encourages students to engage with research and outreach in underserved communities. They also offer a scholar program and research colloquia all aimed at building a diverse scientific and research community.
The Office of Student and Resident Diversity (OSRD) at the UC Davis medical school also offers specific programs to encourage on-campus diversity at their med school. They have several initiatives aimed at encouraging local students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds to consider a future in medicine, including:
#4 Case Western Reserve School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve School of Medicine offers multiple student resources and diversity initiatives with a view to encourage diversity and promote an accepting, multi-cultural on-campus environment for all students. Their School of Medicine hosts several student groups to represent and assist students belonging to minority groups. Their Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity also conducts multiple lecture series, diversity awareness trainings, events, and conferences to promote diversity on their campuses. In particular, their Trailblazer Project is a noteworthy award program that seeks to honor distinguished alumni, faculty, and administrators of color and women.
One of their most impressive initiatives is their focus on encouraging diversity in research and educational programs. Their Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) for MD-PHD candidates encourages applicants from diverse backgrounds. They also offer a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) oriented towards preparing students, especially those from diverse backgrounds, to get additional training and education before they can apply for their PHD degree (including MD-PHD).
#5 Stanford School of Medicine
Stanford School of Medicine offers a wide range of diversity initiatives, programs, and engagements targeted at partnering with underserved communities, helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds, encouraging on-campus diversity, and addressing injustice and inequity. From lunch talks, seminars, and conferences on important social injustice issues to awards for excellence in underrepresented communities, their roster of initiatives seeks to address issues at every level of the educational experience. Some of their most notable diversity initiatives include:
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#6 Weill Cornell Medicine
Cornell medical school has a long-standing commitment to diversity and they view inclusion as critical to ensuring a rich learning environment and effective educational outcomes. Cornell conducts numerous conferences, mentorship programs, and community events to address issues of diversity and inclusion in their med school campus.
A lot of medical schools offer “pipeline programs” which are essentially diversity initiatives designed to encourage and support minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue their interest in medicine and become medical students. Weill Cornell Medicine is a trailblazer in this department as their pipeline programs are among the best and most effective diversity initiatives in the US. This includes their highly successful and well-received study and research programs for bright aspiring medical students from diverse backgrounds such as the Successful and Productive Academic Research Careers Jr. (SPARC Jr.) program, the Travelers Summer Research Fellowship (TSRF) program, and the Weill Ithaca Summer Experience in Research (WISER) program.
One of their most exciting pipeline programs is the Gateways Laboratory Program for college freshmen and sophomores from socio-economically challenged backgrounds who want to pursue an MD-PHD degree. The ten-week program includes hands-on field and lab experience as well as meetings, workshops, and lectures to help the students understand what it takes to become a physician-scientist.
#7 Northwestern Fienberg School of Medicine
Through the diversity initiatives of their Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Northwestern Fienberg School of Medicine prioritizes the need to create an inclusive and diverse campus, foster discussions about equitable representation, and support students from varying backgrounds on their path to medicine. They offer a range of different programs to encourage diversity including pipeline programs to encourage pre-med students from disadvantaged backgrounds, scholarship programs for minority students, visiting student elective programs for students from underrepresented communities, LGBT sensitivity training programs, and lecture series about important diversity and inclusion issues.
Northwestern also hosts the Daniel Hale Williams Society, created in 2018, to promote the recruitment of African-American men in medicine. They conduct events, tours, mentorship programs, and scholarships to help promising young students from the undergrad level fulfill their dreams of med school.
One of their most unique diversity initiatives is the Sustained Dialogue program that aims at helping students develop active listening and facilitation skills with respect to difficult topics. The nine-session program gathers students from diverse communities, and encourages them to come up with a positive action plan to enact change on campus based on their learnings during the program.
Check out this infographic to see these initiatives listed!
#8 University of Manitoba Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
The University of Manitoba medical school has demonstrated one of the most long-standing commitments to diversity and inclusion, especially with respect to their work with the local indigenous populations. They are committed to creating an inclusive on-campus community and serving the local indigenous populations and disrupting all forms of racism in the educational experience. Their comprehensive, results-focused diversity policies should be an inspiration for medical schools across Canada and the US.
Their diversity initiatives start with the admissions process, where they prioritize students from indigenous and local communities, and from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds such as refugees. They also provide extensive student support and mentorship opportunities for students from a disadvantaged background, as well as constituting groups to review diversity in education in terms of curriculum and faculty representation.
One of their most unique diversity initiatives is their commitment to honoring traditional knowledge systems and practices for indigenous students via structured learning opportunities, electives, seminars, and so on. To deliver these programs, they partner with the Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing to ensure they meet the needs of the community and can effectively reach out to indigenous students.
#9 UCSF School of Medicine
The UCSF School of Medicine is fully committed to encouraging diversity in education and diversity on campus. They believe that fostering an environment of inclusion and acceptance, with students from diverse backgrounds, is crucial to creating an effective learning environment and producing innovative, cutting-edge results. They are focused on implementing a whole host of policies and programs aimed at treating more diverse populations, delivering equitable care to different communities, and removing barriers to medical education for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Their Differences Matter Orientation, a part of their new student orientation, is an exemplary program designed to help students address bias, differences, diversity, and inclusion during their very first week as medical students. As part of this program, they also offer the chance for minority students to interact with Underrepresented in Medicine (UIM) faculty advisors. This encourages minority students to foster effective mentorship relationships with experienced faculty members who can guide them through their own personal learnings as well as their years of professional experiences.
Their cultural registered campus organizations for various communities and groups including women, LGBT students, Latinx students etc. also host multiple events, lectures, workshops, and other types of programs in order to effectively set up medical students from disadvantaged backgrounds for future success. Such organizations also provide a support system and networking opportunities for students who may not otherwise have access to them.
#10 Ohio State University College of Medicine
Ohio State University College of Medicine has been nationally recognized and awarded for their excellent diversity initiatives and outcomes, including addressing their admissions bias and encouraging diverse hiring practices across the board. The Office for Diversity and Inclusion is committed to enacting policies to increase the representation of African American, Latino, and Indigenous students on campus and to make the on-campus experience of these students as meaningful as possible.
To that end, they conduct pipeline programs to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue their medical school dreams and to place minority students in the residencies of their choice. Their MEDPATH Post-Baccalaureate Program focuses on helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds to work towards their medical school admissions requirements while the Aspire program gives post-bac students from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to gain useful research experience for their medical school extracurriculars. Another impactful initiative is the Underrepresented in Medicine Visiting Student Program, which provides 4th year minority medical students with a one-month rotation in elite residency programs.
While these diversity initiatives are encouraging and prove a great attraction to incoming students belonging to underrepresented communities, there’s still a huge gap in representation of minorities in medical professions. According to the latest AAMC data, African-Americans make up only 5% of all physicians while constituting 13% of the total population. Not only medical schools, but the medical community in general needs to continue to address this gap with as many diversity initiatives and programs as possible to ensure that students from varying backgrounds have an equal chance to become a practicing doctor.
1. Why are medical schools developing diversity initiatives?
Ensuring that the physician population reflects the same level of diversity as the patient population is a key concern of the medical community today. To that end, medical schools want to promote and prioritize diversity, inclusion, and equity at every level of the educational experience. Long-term research studies prove that representation of minorities in medical communities is improving, but there’s still a long way to go. That’s why, most medical schools take active steps to achieve their diversity goals, from researching and implementing policy changes to implementing diversity initiatives.
Such on-campus diversity initiatives are often aimed at recruiting more diverse students, promoting cross-cultural harmony and communications, partnering with disadvantaged communities to provide medical support where needed, and providing much-needed support and mentorship to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through such initiatives, med schools hope to foster an environment of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion, and to provide minority students with useful opportunities and reliable resources to help them achieve success in the medical profession despite the systemic biases they face in society.
2. How do diversity and inclusion initiatives help medical school students?
As discussed above, diversity initiatives provide minority students with much-needed support and access to important resources. But that’s not all they do. Many diversity initiatives focus on other issues related to bias in the medical community. For instance, many initiatives seek to promote cross-cultural dialogue and harmony, with a focus on providing high-quality patientcare for underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.
Diversity initiatives such as service projects where medical schools partner with local communities help students learn more about diverse patient populations and expose them to different environments. Students get early, first-hand experience of working in settings with a shortage of physicians as well as medical resources. Not only does this encourage more students to practice medicine in socio-economically disadvantaged communities, but it also fosters important dialogue about systemic inequities in the medical community and how to correct them.
3. How should I address diversity in my medical school application?
If you’re applying to medical school, you definitely need to engage with the topic of diversity in your application. Med schools want to know about your own background and your engagement with the community and larger social problems. These aspects are critical for med schools to consider so they can ensure their student population reflects the true diversity and multi-culturalism of the patient population; at the same time, most schools look for students with a sense of civic responsibility and social consciousness as these are also desirable qualities in future physicians.
You can definitely speak about your experiences with diversity, inclusion, and inequality and how they tie in to your overall motivation to study medicine in your medical school personal statement. Also, you should discuss your insights from any volunteer and community service you’ve completed in the extracurriculars section of your application, for instance, the AMCAS Most Meaningful Experiences section. Finally, and most importantly, your diversity secondary essay is where you can really expand upon this topic. In these essays, medical schools want students to discuss their unique background and experiences, and how they will add to the diversity of their class.
4. What can I do to learn more about the diversity initiatives of my chosen medical schools?
It’s definitely a good idea to research the diversity initiatives of your chosen medical schools, so you can see the array of programs on offer and what projects might work for you if you end up going to that school. Most medical schools have a separate Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that oversees and executes all their diversity related projects. You should check the official website of the school to find detailed information about all their diversity initiatives, projects, and policies. You’ll find a separate page with this information for most medical schools. Here are a few examples:
5. Where can I find information about diversity statistics in med schools?
To know more about the demographic compositions of student bodies and key diversity statistics, you can use MSAR and/or check the websites of the schools you’re applying to.
For more information about overall enrollment figures and other statistical data related to diversity in medical schools, check the latest AAMC Diversity in Medicine report on their website.
6. Which are the most diverse medical schools in the US?
It’s difficult to give a precise answer to this question since enrollment data changes from one year to the next and there are so many different parameters that could be considered to determine which schools are the “most diverse”. For instance, Howard University College of Medicine has the largest percentage of African-American students (68%) in the US. In Canada, the University of Manitoba Rady Faculty of Health Sciences is known for its groundbreaking diversity initiatives and policies focused on partnering with the local indigenous communities.
You should check the school websites, MSAR, and AAMC data to identify key statistics related to demographics as well as the diversity policies of the schools you’re applying to. Based on this information, you can make the right decision about which school suits your unique background and requirements.
7. What can I do to advocate for diversity and inclusion in my medical school campus?
Students will find plenty of opportunities to engage with key topics related to diversity and inclusion on medical school campuses. If you’re interested in community service and meaningful volunteer work, you should apply to medical schools that partner with local socio-economically disadvantaged communities to provide students with on-campus service and community engagement opportunities. If you’re interested in being part of policy-change and advocacy, many medical schools host student bodies and groups focused on providing resources and advocating for the medical issues related to a particular community. And finally, you can take inspiration from the students of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, who chose to form their own student advocacy group called Student Advocates for Diversity and Inclusion (SADI) to increase diversity on campus and to improve the experiences of students from diverse backgrounds.
While the medical school curriculum is extremely rigorous and doesn’t leave much free time for extracurricular activities, taking time out for meaningful community engagement can help you gain important perspectives about the larger social context of medicine and your responsibilities as a physician. Moreover, when you’re applying for residencies, a history of impactful volunteer work can really make your residency CV stand out.
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