Affirmative action programs have significantly changed American medicine for the better, not only in medical school admissions and access to postgraduate training but also in bringing a higher quality of health care to all people. James L. Curtis approaches this important transition from historical, statistical, and personal perspectives. He tells how over the course of his medical education and career as a psychiatrist and professor—often the first or only African American in his cohort—the status of minorities in the medical professions grew from a tiny percentage to a far more equitable representation of the American population.
Advancing arguments from his earlier book, Blacks, Medical Schools, and Society, Curtis evaluates the outcomes of affirmative action efforts over the past thirty years. He describes formidable barriers to minority access to medical-education opportunities and the resulting problems faced by minority patients in receiving medical treatment. His progress report includes a review of two thousand minority students admitted to U.S. medical schools in 1969, following them through graduation and their careers, comparing them with two thousand of their nonminority peers. These samples provide an important look at medical schools that, while heralding dramatic progress in physician education and training opportunity, indicates much room for further improvement.
A basic hurdle continues to face African Americans and other minorities who are still confined to segregated neighborhoods and inferior school systems that stifle full scholastic development. Curtis urges us as a nation to develop all our human resources through an expansion of affirmative action programs, thus improving health care for everyone.
"The field of medicine has been transformed since I graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1946 and had my personal experience in helping to open up postgraduate training in psychiatry. That was followed by a decade-long experience as an associate dean at Cornell, which had seldom admitted minority students, and then I spent the next twenty years as director of psychiatry at Harlem Hospital in a center of the Black ghetto. We have since that time become a more inclusive nation, less segregated by race, social class, and gender. My first book, Blacks, Medical Schools, and Society, published in 1971, heralded the opening stage of this desegregation effort. The thirty-year impact of this major social change is demonstrated in Affirmative Action in Medicine: Improving Health Care for Everyone."