Stat! An Action Plan for Replacing the Broken System of Recruitment and Retention of Underrepresented Minorities in Medicine

The famous quote by African American feminist Audre Lorde—“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”—illustrates that true change will not be effected by working within the system. Hence, we need a new approach to diversity within the medical system, because the structure of the current system does not facilitate change. The most recent example of this is the current effort to dismantle affirmative action policies, which will ensure that the recruitment gap widens and that the pipeline of minority students is shut down.

Multiple landmark studies describe the problem and propose solutions, yet we find ourselves no closer to the goal of diversity within the medical field, specifically among practicing physicians. It is imperative that we look for new and innovative ways to bring about change. In academic medicine, the “master’s house” is the institution of the medical school. To clearly understand that house, one must first understand the foundation upon which it was built. Modern medicine has benefited from and been empowered by the gravest of atrocities committed against African American and brown people, who were considered nothing more than laboratory animals to be poked, prodded, and cut—often without benefit of anesthesia or the dignity of consent. Widely known stories of gynecologist J. Marion Sims, the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, and Henrietta Lacks demonstrate that racist acts have served as building blocks for medical institutions.

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