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By IHPL - June 1, 2024

Just a little over four years ago, America witnessed the horrific scenes of Ahmaud Arbery’s death as the footage spread like wildfire.1 In March 2020, the chant “Justice for Breonna Taylor” resounded across the United States.2 Only two months later, George Floyd gasped for his last breath with his neck pinned to the ground for over nine minutes.3

It was within this social context and upheaval that many corporations and institutions began to appoint chief diversity officers and implement new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), while already committed to DEI for years prior, also took a formal, strategic approach to DEI.

However, as much as the visibility of DEI efforts reached fever pitch in the past few years, so has the criticism around them. DEI programs in schools, public universities, and state agencies within states like Florida,4 Alabama,5 and Texas6 have faced numerous legal and financial restrictions this year. Even the U.S. House Office of Diversity and Inclusion was disbanded as a part of the government spending bill that passed on March 22, 2024.7 In fact, a recent NBC news analysis found that more than 100 bills were proposed or passed in 30+ states to target DEI initiatives in universities and other public institutions.8

To take it a step further, Representative Greg Murphy of North Carolina proposed the Embracing Anti-Discrimination, Unbiased Curriculum, and Advancing Truth in Education (EDUCATE) Act (H.R. 7725) on March 19. This bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-329), prohibiting medical schools from receiving federal financial assistance if they adopt policies and requirements relating to DEI.9 In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Murphy called DEI efforts “quackery,” insinuating that DEI curricula and initiatives in medical schools sacrifice competence for diversity.10

However, contrary to Murphy’s assertions, studies have shown that patient outcomes improve when diverse teams provide care.11 In addition, diverse organizations also performed superior financially. This is not limited to the healthcare setting. Business companies, too, have experienced improved performances and greater bottom lines with intentional DEI programs in place.12

In recognition that diversity improves patient care, associations such as the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recently upheld its commitment to DEI and improving disparities in healthcare, opposing the resolution to terminate its DEI programs.13 The AAD advisory board at the March 2024 AAD conference in San Diego went even further and expanded the academy’s mission to prioritize diversity and address inclusion issues within the specialty. This is all the more important as dermatology is currently one of the least diverse medical specialties where only three percent of dermatologists identify as Black as of 2023.14

All in all, as with any other change or new implementation, DEI initiatives and programs are experiencing significant pushback. As a matter of fact, we can expect even more resistance in the upcoming years as the DEI space experiences new shifts and iterations.

Simultaneously, however, comes progress, for resistance may often continue difficult conversations and even inspire innovative ideas and creative DEI avenues. So with this optimism, we can continue forth to make this nation, especially the healthcare sector, a little more welcoming to all, not just some, of us.

Author Bio:

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Yuna Han

Yuna Han is an avid writer, a budding physician, a fervent believer, and a happy wife. She will be graduating in May 2024 with a combined MD and Masters degree in Religion and Society at Loma Linda University. Besides medicine and theology, Yuna is passionate about languages, traveling, dogs, and exercising.