More Diverse Organizations Perform Better

By Marc Nivet

In today’s atmosphere of social, economic, legislative, and judicial upheaval, the spotlight is hot on diversity, especially around the value it brings to organizations. Many of our nation’s leading corporations have embraced the power of diverse and inclusive climates for competitive advantage. The time is ripe for academic medicine also to embrace diversity as a vital component of institutional excellence.

Medical schools and teaching hospitals that lack a critical mass of diversity lose a valuable source of insight into the communities and the patients they serve. These insights may mean the difference in institutional margins, as quality metrics that are tied to payments and reimbursements are phased in. Students, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who understand the social context surrounding health care can make more efficient use of institutional resources as they deliver culturally competent research and patient care; the AMC’s bottom line benefits.

Academic medical centers can leverage the diversity framework pioneered by IBM, an approach to evolving diversity thinking and implementation that has been shown to have positive results for the corporation. The model allows organizations to situate their diversity work along a continuum, pointing the way to appropriate next steps for removing barriers, raising awareness, and fully integrating principles of diversity and inclusion.

To achieve this goal, the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals must endeavor to move diversity from a peripheral problem to a core solution. They must also shift their strategies to better capture, leverage, and respond to the rich diversity of human talents and aptitudes. The AAMC’s Holistic Review Project is supporting this shift by taking another look at prevailing assumptions about the competencies tomorrow’s doctors need. Medical school admissions criteria must be more directly connected with future practice needs; we can start by considering experiences, attitudes, and personal traits as we evaluate medical school applicants.

If we are serious as a nation about ending health disparities and increasing the value we receive for our health care spending, then the growing diversity of our society must be front and center, not on the sidelines. Organizations that understand this and embrace the challenge of creating a culture and climate that welcome and nurture diversity are helping to redefine excellence.

—Marc Nivet, Ed.D., is chief diversity officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges. He can be reached at