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Woke Medical Organizations Are Hazardous to Your Health

The medical profession has succumbed to the notion that it is plagued by “systemic racism.” Those pushing this idea are making a large bet with potentially lethal consequences. Public and private research funding is being redirected from basic science to political projects aimed at “dismantling white supremacy” in medicine. The result will be declining quality of medical care and slowing scientific progress.

Virtually every major medical organization—from the American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges to the American Association of Pediatrics—has embraced the idea that medicine is shot through with racism and inequity. The AMA’s 2021 Organizational Strategic Plan to Embed Racial Justice and Advance Health Equity is a thicket of social-justice nostrums: Physicians must “confront inequities and dismantle white supremacy, racism, and other forms of exclusion and structured oppression, as well as embed racial justice and advance equity within and across all aspects of health systems.”

Medical and scientific leaders, in the name of opposing racism, are apologizing for their own race. In June 2020, the journal Nature identified itself as one of the “white institutions that is [sic] responsible for bias in research and scholarship.” In January 2021, the editor in chief of Health Affairs lamented that “our own staff and leadership are overwhelmingly white.” The AMA’s strategic plan blames “white male lawmakers” for America’s systemic racism.

The remedy, naturally, is racial and other preferences. The AMA strategic plan calls for the “just representation of Black, Indigenous and Latinx people in medical school admissions as well as . . . leadership ranks.” The lack of “just representation,” according to the AMA, is the result of deliberate “exclusion,” which will end only when “we . . . prioritize and integrate the voices and ideas of people and communities experiencing great injustice and historically excluded, exploited, and deprived of needed resources such as people of color, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and those in rural and urban communities alike.”

At the end of their second year of medical school, students take step one of the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam, which measures knowledge of the body’s anatomical parts, functioning and malfunctioning. Topics include biochemistry, physiology, cell biology, pharmacology and the cardiovascular system. High scores on step one predict success in a residency; highly sought-after residency programs, such as surgery and radiology, use exam scores to help select applicants. But some students complain that the pressure to score well inhibits them from “antiracism” advocacy.

Writing in an online forum, a fourth-year Yale medical student describes how the specter of step one affected his priorities. In his first two years of medical school, he had “immersed” himself in a student-led committee focused on diversity, inclusion and social justice, and he ran a podcast about health disparities. All that political work was made possible by Yale’s pass-fail grading system for classes, which meant that he didn’t feel compelled to put studying ahead of diversity concerns. Then, step one “reared its ugly head.” Getting an actual grade on an exam might prove to “whoever might have thought it before that I didn’t deserve a seat at Yale as a Black medical student.”

The solution was obvious: abolish step-one scores. Since January, the test has been graded on a pass-fail basis. The Yale student won’t have to worry that his studying will cut into his activism. Whether his future patients will appreciate his chosen focus is unclear.

Virtually all medical schools admit black and Hispanic applicants with scores on the Medical College Admission Test that would be all but disqualifying if presented by white and Asian applicants, and some schools waive the MCATs entirely for select minority students. Courses on racial justice and advocacy are flooding into medical school curricula; students are learning more about white privilege and less about cell pathology.

College seniors, deciding whether to apply to medical school, can read the writing on the wall. A physician-scientist reports that his best lab technician in 30 years was a recent Yale graduate with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and biochemistry. The former student was intellectually involved and an expert in cloning. His college grade-point advantage and Medical College Admissions Test scores were high. The physician-scientist recommended the student to the then-dean of Northwestern’s medical school, where the scientist worked at the time, but the student didn’t even get an interview. This “white, clean-cut Catholic,” in the words of his former employer, was admitted to only one medical school.

Such stories are rife. A UCLA doctor says that the smartest undergraduates in the school’s science labs are saying: “Now that I see what is happening in medicine, I will do something else.”

Medical science has been one of the greatest engines of human progress, liberating millions from crippling disease and premature death. It has also seen its share of dead ends and misconceptions, from the miasma theory of contagion and heroin as a treatment for children’s coughs to thalidomide for morning sickness and frontal lobotomies.

The scientific method is a natural corrective to such fatal errors. Now, when it comes to the dubious hypothesis that racism is the defining trait of the medical profession and the source of health disparities, opposing views have been ruled out of bounds. Political neutrality, essential to the scientific method, is a racist dodge that risks “reinforcing existing power structures,” according to the editor of Health Affairs. The guardians of science have turned on science itself.

Ms. Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal, from whose Summer 2022 issue this is adapted.

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