Enhancing equity in academic health sciences through strategic initiatives

Enhancing equity in academic health sciences through strategic initiatives

Amid the ongoing debate over how to promote diversity and equity in higher education following the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate affirmative action, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Northeastern University today issued a “roadmap” of strategies to help academics health care institutions to maintain their commitment to racial and ethnic diversity among their students, staff, and faculty in the academic health sciences.

Their recommendations, published in JAMA Health Forumoutline 13 evidence-based strategies for increasing racial and ethnic equity in tertiary health programs.

This roadmap of strategies reminds us all that much can be done to make academic health sciences as equitable as possible. If academic health institutions invest in these strategies, they can help reduce the effects of institutional racism and ensure that the programs that educate, train, and employ our nation’s health professionals are welcoming and inclusive spaces for future generations.

Margarita Alegria, Ph.D., co-author of the study, Chief of the Discrepancy Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

“It will take strong commitment and a multifaceted approach from institutions and funders to achieve true racial and ethnic equity,” said study co-author Idia Biniti Thurston, Ph.D., associate director of the Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Researcher and Professor of Health Sciences and Applied Psychology at Northeastern University. “This can start with strengthening initiatives aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting diverse groups of students, faculty and staff.”

Examples of strategies the paper’s authors picked up from their comprehensive research include:

  • Policies to address the lack of diversity. Several institutions have implemented and evaluated affirmative action-like policies or holistic frameworks that have resulted in higher admission rates for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority (URM) groups.
  • Strong networks of scholars. Institutions retained scholars when they fostered collaboration and social connectivity to share opportunities and build relationships.
  • Financial support. Institutions had better retention when they committed financial resources, including training, housing support, and compensation for participating in DEI initiatives.

Both Thurston and Alegría noted that the research base for advancing racial and ethnic equity in higher education needs to be strengthened. Institutions involved in this work should collect and publish data on their experiences with equity and diversity strategies so that others can learn from their successes and failures. At the same time, funders must make long-term and meaningful investments to support this work if they are truly committed to increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the academic health sciences.

The authors note that the interventions appear to be more effective when combined with other actions, such as social support, promotion, and retention of diverse faculty and students—as opposed to these strategies applied in isolation.

The most important thing, they say, is for institutions and funders to join forces and put these strategies into action, collect good data and then document and share their results.

This work was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Mongan Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.


Massachusetts General Hospital

Journal reference:

Alegria, M., and others. (2024). Evaluation of training to increase diversity in academic health sciences. JAMA Health Forum. doi.org/10.1001/jamahealthforum.2023.5412.

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