Admissions Is Not Enough: The Racial Achievement Gap in Medical Education

Acad Med. 2021 Feb 1;96(2):176-181. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003837.

Abstract

The achievement gap is a disparity in academic and standardized test performance that exists between White and underrepresented minority (URM) students that begins as early as preschool and worsens as students progress through the educational system. Medical education is not immune to this inequality. URM medical students are more likely to experience delayed graduation and course failure, even after accounting for science grade point average and Medical College Admission Test performance. Moreover, URM students are more likely to earn lower scores on licensing examinations, which can have a significant impact on their career trajectory, including specialty choice and residency competitiveness. After the release of preliminary recommendations from the Invitational Conference on USMLE Scoring (InCUS) and public commentary on these recommendations, the National Board of Medical Examiners and Federation of State Medical Boards announced that the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 would transition from a 3-digit numeric score to pass/fail scoring. Given that another of InCUS's recommendations was to "minimize racial demographic differences that exist in USMLE performance," it is paramount to consider the impact of this scoring change on URM medical students specifically. Holistic admissions are a step in the right direction of acknowledging that URM students often travel a further distance to reach medical school. However, when residency programs emphasize USMLE performance (or any standardized test score) despite persistent test score gaps, medical education contributes to the disproportionate harm URM students face and bolsters segregation across medical specialties. This Perspective provides a brief explanation of the achievement gap, its psychological consequences, and its consequences in medical education; discusses the potential effect of the Step 1 scoring change on URM medical students; and provides a review of strategies to redress this disparity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Academic Performance / standards
  • Academic Performance / statistics & numerical data
  • Academic Success
  • College Admission Test / statistics & numerical data
  • Continental Population Groups / education
  • Continental Population Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Education, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Education, Medical / trends
  • Educational Measurement / methods
  • Educational Measurement / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data
  • Licensure, Medical / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Licensure, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Medicine / trends
  • Minority Groups / education
  • Minority Groups / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology