Mount Sinai med school halts 100+ year tradition after accusations of racism

Alyssa Rege - Print  | 

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City placed a moratorium on student nominations to a prestigious medical honor society in May after students called attention to the nomination process' unfairness to minority students, NPR reports.

Here are five things to know:

1. The Icahn School of Medicine halted nominations to elect students to the school's Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society chapter. The AOA is a 116-year-old national medical honor society, and is open to the top 25 percent of a school's graduating class and serves as a valuable accolade for students pursuing residencies and jobs within the medical industry, the report states.

2. The school stopped nominations because officials determined the selection process discriminates against students of color, reflecting the deeper issues of racial inequality in medical education. The publication reports roughly 3 percent of Icahn students nominated to the AOA organization during the past five years came from an underrepresented racial background, compared with the 18 to 20 percent of underrepresented students that made up each graduating class.

"AOA perpetuates systems that are deeply flawed," David Muller, MD, dean for medical education at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told NPR. "We can't justify putting people who are historically at a disadvantage at an even greater disadvantage. It just doesn't seem fair to dangle in front of our students an honorific that we know people are not equally eligible for."

3. Icahn medical school officials issued the change after a group of students collected data on the number of students nominated to the AOA who came from underrepresented minorities, and presented the data during a series of meetings with school leadership in 2017. Officials have not fully closed the school's chapter and will continue to nominate residents and faculty.

4. However, the Icahn School of Medicine is not alone in admitting a disproportionately low number of minority students to the AOA. A 2017 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found black and Asian students were less likely to be selected for inclusion than their white counterparts nationwide.

5. Other medical schools have also begun examining their criteria for nominating students to their AOA chapter, the report states. Catherine Lucey, MD, vice dean for education at the San Francisco-based UCSF School of Medicine, said the institution changed its selection criteria for admission into the school's AOA chapter in 2016 to focus less on grades. She told NPR the number of minority students admitted into the society that year increased to match the percentage of minorities in each graduating class.

"[The] systems we use [for student evaluation] fail to take into account the extra work minorities are doing," Dr. Lucey said. "[Minority] students have more stressors they have to deal with, low levels of racism that exist in our patients and our clinical environments."

To access the full report, click here.

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