Importance of DEI in Medicine

Parth Shah, DO, CO ACEP Fellow

With the recent introduction of the Embracing Anti-Discrimination, Unbiased Curriculum, and Advancing Truth in Education (EDUCATE) Act by Congressman Greg Murphy, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are under the spotlight. Simply put, the EDUCATE Act aims to pull federal funding from medical schools that adopt policies and requirements relating to DEI. This has historically been viewed as advancing the field of medicine and patient care by providing patients with physicians they can relate to, bringing new perspectives into the field, and cultural competency. In contrast, some policymakers perceive DEI initiatives as a way to push a political narrative.

Educational institutions play an integral role in shaping the future of healthcare. By promoting DEI in medical education, we prepare the next generation of physicians to navigate an increasingly diverse patient population with empathy and cultural humility. Exposing students to a wide range of perspectives and experiences fosters a more inclusive healthcare environment and equips future physicians with the skills needed to provide equitable care to all patients.

In healthcare, diversity encompasses more than mere representation; it encompasses a multitude of perspectives and life experiences. Patients come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and communities, each presenting different needs and obstacles. A healthcare team that reflects this diversity is poised to comprehensively understand and address these multifactorial needs that when gone unaddressed have contributed to poor patient outcomes. For example, a physician who shares a patient’s cultural or linguistic background is often better equipped to establish effective communication, resulting in greater patient satisfaction, trust, and adherence to treatment plans and ultimately improved health outcomes. Physicians belonging to under-represented minority groups are more likely to work in areas serving minority patients and those of low socioeconomic background, which historically have limited healthcare access and poorer patient outcomes.

Trust forms the foundation of the patient-provider relationship. It is critical for patients to perceive their healthcare settings as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful of their identities and experiences in order to create confidence in their healthcare providers and actively engage in their care. Unfortunately, historical injustices and systemic biases have led to mistrust among certain communities, particularly marginalized groups. By embracing DEI principles, healthcare institutions foster patient-provider trust, improve patient satisfaction, and boost patient engagement. When patients feel seen, heard, and valued, they are more likely to seek care, adhere to treatment plans, and participate in preventive health measures, ultimately leading to better health outcomes. A county level study showed that an increase in Black physician representation was associated with greater life expectancy in Black patients.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not simply moral imperatives; they are necessary pillars of a thriving and effective healthcare system. By embracing diversity in medicine, we enhance patient care, promote cultural competency, address health disparities, improve workforce representation, and promote educational excellence. Moving forward, it’s essential for healthcare organizations, policymakers, educators, and practitioners to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to move the needle towards a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system for our patients.

Representative Murphy’s introduction of the EDUCATE act does not align with ACEP’s stance on DEI. However, as a fellow physician, Rep. Murphy has been an ally for ACEP and the medical community on a number of issues including support of the Affordable Care Act and fighting against Medicare physician reimbursement cuts. Dr. Aisha Terry, the current president of ACEP, took time to sit with Rep. Murphy at this year’s Leadership and Advocacy conference, despite having opposing viewpoints personally and as an organization as a whole. Keeping an open mind and having these difficult discussions is part of how we can advocate for the physician community and in turn, our patients.