2007 Grads: Stanford medical school class shows shift in gender, color

Medical school students top the nation in diversity, commitment to excellence

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Amy Feldman

Under-represented minority students entering Stanford medical school doubled over a decade to 20 percent in 2006.

Medical school graduates may be exhilarated to see the end of their hard work on June 16, when they get their degrees. But they'll soon find out, when they start a residency or fellowship, there's more work ahead.

So, too, medical school administrators have something to celebrate with this year's graduation: a class that's smart, talented and dazzling in its diversity. But they also face more work ahead, recruiting future students who excel yet represent a society growing more diverse every year.

"Each year is a new challenge," said Gabriel Garcia, MD, associate dean for medical school admissions and professor of medicine. "This is not the time we can rest and say it's something we're good at."

Over the past 10 years, Stanford's medical school has increased the number of women entering its MD program to just over half, and doubled the racial and ethnic diversity of its entering class. That achievement has earned Stanford a national reputation for its progress.

In 2006, women entering the medical school made up 56 percent of the first-year class. The proportion of minorities under-represented in medicine—Hispanic, African-American and Native American—increased to 20 percent.

And the 2007 entering class in the graduate bioscience programs will include 16 students who are under-represented minorities out of 101 enrolling.

But nobody thinks it's time to coast on accomplishments. The U.S. population is already more diverse: Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans made up 25 percent of the population in 2000, and by 2025 they are expected to be 32 percent.

Matching that will be a steeper hill to climb. "I believe there will be more challenge in the future than there was in the past," said Garcia, also the Peter E. Haas Director of the Haas Center for Public Service.

Nationwide, the proportion of under-represented minorities entering MD programs in 2004 was about 14 percent. The American Association of Medical Colleges has called for more doctors who reflect the nation's gender, racial and cultural composition, citing studies that show minority physicians are more likely to treat low-income patients and to practice in underserved communities.

That's only part of the reason why medical schools should strive to train a diverse mix of students, however. "Diversity has become not so much a social justice issue, but more of a means of achieving the excellence we are striving for," said Hannah Valantine, MD, senior associate dean for diversity and leadership at the medical school and professor of medicine (cardiology). The issue is just as critical for bioscience graduate education, Valantine said, to ensure a "broad research agenda."

"The more diverse the environment of the education is, the better the outcome," Valantine said.