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House GOP Targets Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programs in Medical Schools

The medical community warns of potential harmful consequences for students and patients alike should the bill pass.

Rep. Greg Murphy speaks during a television news interview on May 15, 2020.

Medical students across the U.S. are sounding the alarm over a new bill introduced in Congress that would ban diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in medical schools, citing the bill’s potential harrowing consequences for students and patients alike.

Republican Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina proposed the bill on March 19, which seeks to cut federal funding to medical schools with DEI programs. In a Wall Street Journalop-ed, Murphy called DEI efforts “quackery” and said the bill would require schools to stop teaching topics such as intersectionality, colonization, and white supremacy, dissolve scholarships, classes, and programming designed for students based on their racial background, and eliminate DEI offices.

“For me, it’s this mix of shock and disappointment,” said Joel Bervell, a medical student at Washington State University. Bervell is known online as the “Medical Mythbuster” for his videos that shed light on health inequities, educating doctors and patients alike. “I think it’s not a surprise, given the recent backlash that there has been … a lot of people think of diversity, equity, inclusion as just hiring practices, or they often think of it in terms of quotas, which is incorrect. When you think about diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s: how do you expand access and actually look for talent in places that it hasn’t been approached before?”

Murphy’s bill is part of a push from Do No Harm, a nonprofit launched in 2023 to protest diversity initiatives in medicine. Also known as the Embracing anti-Discrimination, Unbiased Curricula, and Advancing Truth in Education (EDUCATE) Act, the bill is one domino in the anti-DEI rhetoric gaining momentum in the U.S. as more companies back away from DEI initiatives and cut related jobs. DEI programs in education have faced attacks in states like Florida, Alabama, and Texas, and the White House even dissolved its Office of Diversity and Inclusion in late March.

To take it a step further, the EDUCATE Act seeks to take DEI backlash to the federal level. While many say it’s unlikely to pass (and functions more as a “messaging bill,” according to MSNBC), some medical students caution how it might endanger future students and patients ahead.

“Medicine does not exist in a vacuum,” said University of Pennsylvania medical student Jasmine Brown. Brown emphasized the role legislation has historically played in keeping Black doctors out of education and the physician workforce, a topic she also explored in her book on Black women physicians in the U.S., Twice as Hard.

“Diversity within the physician workforce leads to better health outcomes for patients,” Brown said. “There has been so much evidence that has shown that by having more underrepresented minority physicians, there are better health outcomes for allpatients.”

Bervell also voiced concerns about how the bill would affect students’ abilities to innovate and improve patient outcomes.

“When you introduce a bill like this that’s trying to ignore any conversation of DEI, it makes it easier for systemic racism and systemic biases in healthcare to perpetuate, because it removes us from being able to question the systems of how we got here today,” he said. “Race is already involved in medicine all the time. Many of the equations that we use — and many of the algorithms that we use — use race to stratify.”

The test used to diagnose kidney disease (called the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR)) is a prime example: while one of the most widely used formulas for measuring eGFR formerly used a “Black race variable,” students and professionals pushed for an updated, race-neutral formula since the variable could actually disadvantage Black patients with chronic kidney disease by overestimating their kidney health, leading them to appear less sick on paper.

Thanks to the updated formula, in 2022, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network said that any person whose care team used the race-based equation could retrospectively have it backdated so that they could be moved up on the likes of a kidney transplant list.

“I had a patient that reached out to me and told me that they’d moved five years on the kidney transplant list after they saw my video about that,” Bervell said. “It takes unique, diverse thoughts in order to be able to make these changes.”

Some doctors also worry that anti-DEI legislation will force physicians, medical students, and educators to leave the field, worsening care and stalling research for disadvantaged populations. In a USA Today article, SPEKTRUM Health CEO Joseph Knoll noted that anti-DEI bans have resulted in “complete chaos in Florida” in gender-affirming care.

“Patients have found a variety of ways to source their medication, most of which do not come with any real monitoring or professional input,” Knoll said.

Harvard Medical School and the University of Michigan Medical School declined to comment for this article. Hampton University and Johns Hopkins’ medical schools did not respond to requests for comment.

“When we see the need for DEI, it’s because there’s been an intentional way of keeping people that don’t ‘look like a doctor’ out of the medical field. That’s why diversity, equity, and inclusion is so important today. We have to actively combat what’s happening,” Bervell said. “DEI is so much more than race. This bill is literally going to hurt people.”

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