IHP President Paula Milone-Nuzzo among panelists, doesn’t expect high court ruling to change IHP’s ability to educate a diverse workforce

Diversity in the healthcare workforce could suffer a setback in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action, but it should have little effect on the way the MGH Institute builds a diverse student body.  

Those were some of the takeaways in a recent Mass General Brigham system-wide virtual Office of Diversity Equity & Inclusion monthly Grand Rounds discussion.  The July session focused on the history and legal framework of affirmative action, and the legal implications of the high court’s ruling on using race in admissions.

Moderated by MGB Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Anna Brown, “Affirmative Action: History, Framing, and Impacts of Recent Supreme Court Decision” featured MGH Institute President Paula Milone-Nuzzo; Joshua Abrams, Senior Attorney with MGB’s Office of the General Counsel; Gaurdia Banister, Executive Director of the Institute for Patient Care at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Elena Olson, Executive Director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at MGH.

“There's nothing in the ruling that should be construed that prohibits universities from considering an applicant's discussion on how race affected his or her life,” noted Milone-Nuzzo, when asked about the ruling’s impact on the IHP’s admissions process, “be it through discrimination, family challenges, or any other variable which has an impact on the applicants progression in life and their ability to look at issues from a diverse lens.”

The IHP’s student selection process is “holistic,” said Milone-Nuzzo. 

“We look at the entire person, including how students have overcome real and significant challenges, and we do that through the interview and through the admission essay,” continued Milone-Nuzzo, now in her sixth year leading the IHP. “And we look at how applicants will contribute to our mission and our vision, and their thoughts about helping us achieve our goals.”

Abrams walked viewers through a history of consequential cases affecting much of the country and reminded the audience that the high court ruled the defendants in the case, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, didn’t demonstrate how their goals were being met by affirmative action. 

“[The Supreme Court] said theoretically affirmative action could still be used under the right circumstances,” said Abrams. “And that’s what we’ll talk about in how it affects our hospitals.”

Banister spoke about MGB’s Clinical Leadership Collaborative for Diversity in Nursing – which provides mentorship and scholarship for nurses to increase diversity in the workforce – and said she didn’t believe the program would be affected by the court ruling. 

“MGB has been ahead of the curve. The Clinical Leadership Collaborative for Diversity in Nursing has been around for some time,” said Banister. ”When we’re talking about the Supreme Court and the ruling, we also have to pay attention to the fact that diversity has many interpretations, in my opinion. For our program, it means excellence, diversity of ideas, exemplary patient care, and ways to think about innovation going forward in the future.” 

Olson explained MGB’s recruiting efforts wouldn’t be adversely affected because the ruling only spoke to the admissions process in higher education. However, she said physician diversity likely will be affected. 

“We have helped create a diverse and inclusive workforce for physicians and scientists, and the student pipeline is actually a very, very critical part of this mission,” said Olson. “If colleges and universities cannot educate a diverse student body, we are not going to have diverse residents and ultimately diverse physicians caring for our increasingly diverse patient population. Evidence has shown us that enhancing physician diversity improves patient outcomes."

Milone-Nuzzo closed her portion of the Q&A segment by reminding viewers the IHP’s goal is to educate a diverse population of students to better reflect the changing demographics of the country that is predicted to become minority-majority by 2050.  We know that the patient experience is enhanced when patients and providers have characteristics such as race and culture in common.  

“That's a goal of ours, and by using a holistic admission process, we really are able to achieve that goal in a very thoughtful way that is consistent with the Supreme Court ruling,” said Milone-Nuzzo. “We've been doing this for many years. We have been able to bring in very diverse classes without using race as a weighted variable, which is what the Supreme Court was talking about.”

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