Following a year of advocacy by medical students, the American Medical Association (AMA) has agreed for the first time to oppose legacy admissions in medical schools, a century-old practice often criticized for effectively discriminating against first-generation or low-income students, people of color, and immigrants. The policy shift comes within days of a US Supreme Court ruling many experts believe will end affirmative action in colleges and universities.
The set of policy changes may place added pressure on medical schools to cease preferential admissions and begin implementing more sustainable measures to attract and maintain diverse student bodies. While several states have introduced bills to ban college legacy admissions and some high-profile medical schools, including Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, have moved away from the practice in recent years, an estimated 25% of public colleges and universities still consider applicants’ associations with donors and alumni.
Senila Yasmin, MPH, a second-year medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine and member of AMA’s Medical Student Section, co-authored a resolution stating that legacy admissions go against the AMA’s strategic plan to advance racial justice and health equity. The Student Section passed the resolution in November before the House of Delegates, the AMA’s legislative arm, voted on it at this week’s annual meeting.
The policy opposes using legacy status as a screening tool for medical school admissions, citing the “discriminatory outcomes” of such practices as a factor in the decision.
“We’re very happy to get this resolution through to the House during its first resolution cycle,” Yasmin told Medscape Medical News. “It’s a step toward equity and inclusion and a big win for disadvantaged and first-generation students like me, paving the way for state medical societies and medical schools to implement similar policies and directives.”
Preferential legacy admissions create a barrier to medical school entry for underrepresented groups, AMA board member Toluwalasé Ajayi, MD, said in a press release. She said moving to an equitable admissions process will “level the playing field” for students with fewer resources and help create a diverse physician workforce.
Applicants may voluntarily disclose legacy status during interviews, but the AMA policy encourages medical schools to refrain from asking specific legacy questions in the application process.
Yasmin was also instrumental in a student group’s efforts to end legacy admissions at Tufts School of Medicine in 2021. And in December, she and a group of Massachusetts Medical Society student-members presented a resolution to the state medical society, which adopted it.
The House of Delegates also approved policy changes to expand its support of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. The policy seeks to deepen student engagement by providing resources to establish DEI offices on medical school campuses. In addition, it will explore the impact of state legislation on efforts to enhance student body and faculty diversity.
AMA president-elect Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, told the organization’s news service that these policies would “bolster the pool of students from historically excluded racial and ethnic groups” and ensure that physicians can meet the needs of all patients.
Steph Weber is a Midwest-based freelance journalist specializing in healthcare and law.
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