"Hostile Environment": Reducing Applications to Medical Schools Nationwide

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"Hostile Environment": Reducing Applications to Medical Schools Nationwide

WASHINGTON -- The elimination of affirmative action in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi has had a chilling effect on the enrollment and acceptance of racial and ethnic minorities in medical schools across the country, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

The data from AAMC, which was released earlier this month, found that the number of applications to medical schools in those four states from African American, Native American, Mexican American/Chicano, and Puerto Rican students living in those states dropped 17 percent in 1997.

In comparison, the number of under-represented students not living in those states applying to medical schools outside of California, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi declined by only 4 percent. This is part of an overall drop in applications to medical schools -- from both minority and non-minority populations -- of 8.4 percent.

AAMC data also showed that 125 fewer minority students living in states where affirmative action has been rolled back pursued careers in medicine in 1997.

The enrollment decline, said Jordan Cohen, M.D., AAMC's president, reflects the "hostile environment" that the Hopwood case and Proposition 209 has spawned in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and California.

Hopwood is the case on which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the University of Texas law school could not use race or ethnicity as a factor in admissions. That ruling affects Fifth Circuit states -- Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Proposition 209 was a referendum item passed last year by voters in California eliminating all affirmative action in state contracting and state-operated college admissions. Because the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the law earlier this fall, many observers believe that it is ready to overturn all affirmative action programs.

The AAMC study, Facts: Applicants, Matriculants and Graduates, 1991-1997, found that the drop in medical school applications from minority students in California, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, account for nearly 40 percent of the overall drop in the number of applications of minority students.

And not only are applications from minority students down in the affected states, but so are the numbers of those being accepted into medical school, the report found. The number of minority students residing in the four states who were accepted to medical schools located in those states plunged 27 percent this year.

"It is clear from our tracking data that the climate engendered by the Hopwood decision and Prop 209 is discouraging minorities from applying to medical school," Cohen told more than 150 minority high school and college students participating in a medical career awareness workshop held here during the AAMC's annual meeting.

Hopwood's impact, Cohen said, is "an ominous sign for the medical community and our nation, which badly needs a physician workforce that is both diverse and reflective of our society as a whole. …