10:34am Monday 09 December 2019

Diversity in Medical Education: It's Not So Black and White Anymore

Achieving diversity in today’s medical schools goes beyond bringing underrepresented students into the fold, he says. It’s about creating an optimal learning environment, where people with different ideas, cultures, opinions, and experiences feel comfortable amongst each other and part of a larger dialogue to come together to solve tomorrow’s health care problems.

“If the ultimate goal of diversity in medical schools and residency programs is to improve patient care, a good first step is to create a world where all trainees can feel supported while learning and working to the best of their ability,” he writes. “Establishing an inclusive learning environment means that people from all different walks of life can not only have a seat at the same table but also be comfortable in their chairs.”

That, he says, can only be achieved with a commitment to diversity that is inseparable from an institution’s identity and a fundamental part of its success.

For the past few decades, the definition of diversity in medical education has largely remained the same, as well as the social mandate to increase it.  Many efforts have focused on improving access to the field for minorities, but this “good intentions” approach, he says, fails to critically examine diversity’s true meaning and strips of its potential to advance the field of medicine.

The new approach—called “Diversity 3.0,” a term coined by IBM—focuses on differences beyond race and ethnicity. “People’s worldviews may diverge for many reasons—owing to the experiences of military service, for example, or to sexual orientation or the language one speaks,” he writes. “All such characteristics and experiences figure into the new diversity, which acknowledges that shared experiences in this country no longer track simply with race. Diversity is not so black and white anymore.”

The new definition shouldn’t discount the old one, though—it should build off of it, Attiah says. The definition of diversity is changing, he says. “I think overall for the better, but people should keep in mind that the previous definition has merit,” he says. “There is still a shared narrative among minority students that has supported a collective consciousness for decades and helped improve patient care because of a rapport with patients rooted in racial or cultural similarities.”

Over the last year, Penn Medicine has solidified its commitment to inclusion and diversity. Eve Higginbotham, SM, MD, Penn Medicine’s first Vice Dean for Inclusion and Diversity, joined last year to spearhead Penn Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity.  Its efforts are aimed at supporting the many innovative programs underway, as well as exploring new opportunities to embrace diversity and broaden access to people of all ethnicities, historical traditions and economic backgrounds, genders, religions and disabilities, and respecting sexual orientation and veteran status.

“Diversity is important to the success and future of an institution, especially now that the population we will be taking care is becoming more and more diverse,” Attiah says.


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania — recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital — the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.

Share on:

MORE FROM Public Health and Safety

Health news