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“Hostile environment”: reducing applications to medical schools nationwide – elimination of affirmative action in California, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi


The elimination of affirmative action in California,
Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi has had a chilling effect on the
enrollment and acceptance of racial and ethnic minorities in medical
schools across the country, according to the Association of American
Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The data from AAMC, which was released earlier this month, found
that the number of applications to medical schools in those four states
from African American, Native American, Mexican American/Chicano, and
Puerto Rican students living in those states dropped 17 percent in 1997.

In comparison, the number of trader-represented students not living
in those states applying to medical schools outside of California,
Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi declined by only 4 percent. This is
part of an overall drop in applications to medical schools – from both
minority and non-minority populations – of 8.4 percent.

AAMC data also showed that 125 fewer minority students living in
states where affirmative action has been rolled back pursued careers in
medicine in 1997.

The enrollment decline, said Jordan Cohen, M.D., AAMC’s president,
reflects the “hostile environment” that the Hopwood case and
Proposition 209 has spawned in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and

Hopwood is the case on which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
ruled last year that the University of Texas law school could not use
race or ethnicity as a factor in admissions. That ruling affects Fifth
Circuit states – Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Proposition 209 was
a referendum item passed last year by voters in California eliminating
all affirmative action in state contracting and state-operated college
admissions. Because the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to
the law earlier this fall, many observers believe that it is ready to
overturn all affirmative action programs.

The AAMC study, Facts: Applicants, Matriculants and Graduates,
1991-1997, found that the drop in medical school applications from
minority students in California, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana,
account for nearly 40 percent of the overall drop in the number of
applications of minority students.

And not only are applications from minority students down in the
affected states, but so are the numbers of those being accepted into
medical school, the report found The number of minority students
residing in the four states who were accepted to medical schools
located in those states plunged 27 percent this year.

“It is clear from our tracking data that the climate engendered by
the Hopwood decision and Prop 209 is discouraging minorities from
applying to medical school,” Cohen told more than 150 minority high
school and college students participating in a medical career awareness
workshop held here during the AAMC’s annual meeting.

Hopwood’s impact, Cohen said, is “an ominous sign for the medical
community and our nation, which badly needs a physician workforce that
is both diverse and reflective of our society as a whole.”

The anti-affirmative action ruling, Cohen said, may propel medical
school admissions committees toward policies that rely strictly on
“quantitative criteria” such as grade-point averages and standardized
test scores to the exclusion of other important factors such as
communication skills, extracurricular activities, and leadership

Since 1994, the gains made by a national initiative to increase the
number of under-represented minority students entering the nation’s 125
medical schools, has eroded. AAMC’s “Project 3000 by 2000” had a peak
year in 1994, with 2,014 students enrolled in medical school. This year
enrollment is down to 1,770.

“We were on our way [toward reaching an annual enrollment goal of
3,000], then all the anti-affirmative action policies came,” recalled
Dr. Herbert Nickens who directs the project.

The project, which began in 1991, was created to address what had
been, for the previous fifteen years, the worsening problem of minority
under-representation in American medical schools. Despite charting the
drop in numbers, the aim of the project, Nickens contends, has not been
affirmative action.

“The important work of the project has been fostering partnerships
between academic medical schools anti public school systems. We had to
do something about the fundamental educational disparities, but we
weren’t going to be able to accomplish what we needed to do even with
affirmative action,” Nickens said.

The cause of minority under-representation in the medical and health
profession, Nickens said, is the scarcity of students of color who are
both interested in the field and academically prepared.

“While [affirmative action] does improve the numbers, the pool of
academically motivated minority students is small and forces everyone
to compete for a group of students that’s just too small to service the
needs of the nation in aerospace, law and science, and other fields
that need highly trained minority talent,” Nickens said.

As the effect of Hopwood begins choking off and modifying
affirmative action in higher education, Nickens is advising prospective
minority medical school applicants “to get their academic skills to the
highest level possible,” including enrolling in enrichment programs.

Cohen said the AAMC is determined to “beat back” anti-affirmative
action policies now sweeping the nation and impacting medical education
and the profession. Cohen urged students to pursue their dreams of
becoming doctors despite persistent anti-affirmative action trends.

“I’m confident that the pendulum will swing back,” Cohen said.
“Apply, apply, apply. If you don’t apply to medical school then
obviously you won’t get in… But be encouraged that there are those of
us who are on the other side of the chasm pulling for you.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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