Affirmative Action in Medicine

Improving Health Care for Everyone
James L. Curtis, M.D.
An important look at how affirmative action in medical training is key to more equitable health care in the United States


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."

James L. Curtis is Clinical Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Praise / Awards

  • "James Curtis gives a comprehensive report of thirty years' affirmative action in medicine, with a timely and thoughtful analysis of its implication for education, professional practice, and health care."
    —Frank Rhodes, President Emeritus, Cornell University

  • "I highly recommend this book. No other source offers the breadth and perspective of the plight of African Americans and others from access to medical school through entry into practice, and the successes of Affirmative Action in rectifying it. Magnificent, well written, well researched."
    —James E. Bowman, MD, FASCP, FCAP, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, and Senior Scholar for the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.

  • "This interesting book is a rare combination of riveting personal reflections, previously unpublished data, and heartfelt philosophical declarations by a man who has not only lived through but has also contributed significantly to hone of the most important social transformations in American history. Affirmative Action in Medicine: Improving Health Care for Everyone could not have been published at a more propitious moment as our country grapples with the legality of a tool that has proven more uniquely effective in rectifying a legacy of flagrant discrimination in access to and advancement within the medical profession."
    —Jordan J. Cohen, M.D., President, Association of American Medical Colleges

  • "This is arguably the best book that has ever been written on this complex problem. It is a candid, thoughtful, and balanced assessment of the progress of (and assaults on) programs over the past 30 years, following up on Curtis's 1971 review of the same issues. It combines the personal experience, knowledge, and historical perspective of a pioneer who has been directly involved in these struggles for more than 50 years with a meticulously researched and hugely informative presentation of the relevant data. The book includes an important new contribution, which is a study of the medical careers of some 2109 medical school graduates who were members of minority groups and a randomly sampled, approximately equal number of non-minority-group graduates."
    —H. Jack Geiger, M.D.

  • "Curtis' study finds that minority physicians who graduated from medical schools during the 1970s tend to establish medical practices in relatively low-income minority neighborhoods, bringing severely needed medical resources to previously ignored communities. Nonminority medical graduates are found to establish practices in predominately white middle class communities. This pattern of physicians returning to their communities of origin further supports the need to actively recruit, educate, and train racially and ethnically diverse groups to ensure that underserved communities are given greater access to needed medical services."
    —Jack O. Lanier, DrPH, MHA, Virgina Commonwealth University, Medical College of Richmond

Product Details

  • 256 pages.
  • 45 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02502-2

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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