August 2008

Diversity

The American Medical Association’s recent public apology to the nation’s African American physicians for “past wrongs” reminds us that the medical profession has a lot to atone for and a lot of catching up to do. While African Americans represent more than 12 percent of the population of the United States, they account for only about 3 percent of all physicians—a percentage that has barely changed in the last 100 years!

I am determined that NYU Langone Medical Center play a true leadership role in this regard.   True, we have some successes to point to. Our School has welcomed African American students since 1921. We have some wonderful programs to encourage young people from underrepresented minorities to pursue careers as doctors. A number of our African American alumni have gone on to positions of great distinction, including the presidency of both the National Medical Association and the AMA itself.  

But we all know that we still have a long way to go.  All the components of this vital issue—including the ways we recruit, develop and promote people—are under scrutiny at the Dean’s Council on Institutional Diversity, which today marshals the talents of more than 50 people from across the institution.  They have designed a number of important initiatives to diversify our student body and our faculty, as well as to cultivate leaders who come from diverse backgrounds. You can expect to hear more about their work in the months to come.

Diversity is about fairness and equality of opportunity, of course, but in the world of medicine, it also has broader implications.  We now know that the composition of the physician workforce impacts both patient access and patient outcomes.  In my eyes, doing everything in our power to redress today’s imbalances is a moral imperative, nothing less.