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Ethnic Diversity in Med School Helps Prepare Students

Racial and ethnic diversity improves skills and attitudes towards providing care for patients of a different racial background

TUESDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Increasing ethnic and racial diversity among students enrolled in U.S. medical schools is positively associated with self-reported preparedness to care for an ethnically diverse patient population, and affects attitudes regarding access to health care, but not the decision to practice in a medically underserved community, according to a report in the Sept. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Somnath Saha, M.D., of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and colleagues examined results from the 2003 and 2004 Association of American Medical Colleges' graduation questionnaire, administered to 20,112 students, to determine if racial/ethnic diversity within medical school classes is associated with diversity-related outcomes. The main outcome measures were students' self-rated preparedness to care for patients of racial and ethnic backgrounds different from their own, self-reported attitudes regarding equity and access to care, and intent to practice in a medically underserved area.

The investigators found that white students graduating from schools in the highest quintile for student body diversity were more likely to rate themselves as highly prepared to care for minority populations compared to students graduating from schools in the lowest diversity quintile (61.1 percent versus 53.9 percent), and this finding was most pronounced in schools where students perceived a positive climate for interracial interaction. White students from schools in the highest quintile for student body diversity were also more likely to support equitable access to care (54.8 percent versus 44.2 percent). No significant associations between student body diversity and diversity-related outcomes were noted for non-white students, the researchers note. Students plans to practice in underserved communities were not associated with student body diversity for white or non-white students, the report indicates.

"These results can guide medical schools in shaping policies for recruiting, admitting and retaining underrepresented minority students as one component of achieving diversity to help them fulfill their educational missions," the authors conclude.

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