How do we move forward from the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action?

Linda Gadsby, NBME Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer reflects on the recent affirmative action ruling by the Supreme Court and the significance of DEI in medical education.

I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years. I started off at a large New York City Park Avenue law firm, specializing in labor and employment law.  My work focused on union negotiations, advising on and resolving labor disputes, employment discrimination cases, sexual harassment and employment law training, and counseling businesses on having transparent and equitable policies in the workplace and administering them fairly.

As the daughter of immigrant parents, I was always taught the importance of education. I believed from an early age that the most efficient and sustainable path to success was paved by education and academic achievement. In my quest to achieve this goal, I’ve had a plethora of nay-sayers along the way, including my high school guidance counselor who told me, “Don’t bother applying to any Ivy League schools because you won’t get in.” This was despite me being at one of the best high schools in the country and having good grades and strong SAT scores.

I refused to let her limiting belief in my potential define me; in fact, it drove me even harder to prove her wrong. I made it my mission to apply to as many highly selective colleges as I could, and I got into many of them. I chose to attend Cornell University’s School of Engineering for my undergraduate program. After my first year, I switched to the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, which was known to be excellent preparation for law school.

I firmly believe that no matter where you come from or your family background, when you remain focused, work hard, and are resilient you can achieve your goals. However, I also am keenly aware that there could be many roadblocks and obstacles that make getting to that north star hard. More likely than not, you will need help to get there.

For this reason, I have spent my adult life determined to be a role model and advocate for young people who don’t have someone in their life to show them what’s possible or who contend with naysayers and systems not designed with their success in mind. After the recent Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, I’m worried that the progress we’ve made to provide equitable opportunities for our most marginalized young people and to support them in reaching their full potential will be set back.

What is the significance of having policies in place to support DEI?

Even before I became NBME’s Chief DEI Officer, DEI has been a critical part in all chapters of my education and career. I believe that policies and practices like affirmative action, that are designed to recognize historic inequity and level the playing field so everyone has a fair shot at opportunities for success, are crucial for a just society and achieving diversity and equity in educational institutions and workplaces. Affirmative action has been an essential tool in addressing past- and present-day discrimination faced by many marginalized groups, including people of color, women, and veterans. When I think about the different educational environments I’ve been in, classrooms with diverse individuals were by far the most interesting and facilitated enriched learning for all students. The research supports my own observations.

While it’s certainly going to be harder to further the DEI progress that has been made after the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s not impossible. What is clear to me is that it’s more important than ever to remain vocal about decisions and actions that go against your values and to act in your spheres of influence.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

What is NBME doing to promote DEI in medical education and assessment?

Within our sphere of influence, NBME recognizes its role in supporting a more diverse and culturally competent medical student population. Exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences can promote critical thinking, empathy, and multicultural humility, leading to physicians who can better serve and improve health outcomes for our diverse patient communities. Because of this, NBME has and will continue to take steps that further drive diversity and equity in the medical education and assessment spaces, including:

  • Incorporating DEI considerations into all our work, such as test development, accommodations review, governance, research, innovation, recruiting, and talent development.
  • Co-sponsoring and hosting the inaugural Equity in Measurement and Assessment Conference to challenge long-held assessment practices and advance approaches that promote equity.
  • Partnering with the Center for Measurement Justice to sponsor a dissertation fellowship program for members of racial and ethnic groups historically underrepresented in measurement.
  • Collaborating with various organizations to support pathway/pipeline programs and resources for underrepresented and underserved learners in medicine and measurement.

We’re also supporting community efforts to advance health equity locally in Philadelphia like the Black Doctors Consortium and Vision To Learn.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, I remain hopeful about the future. This is because of committed individuals and organizations, like NBME, who will continue to be intentional about their efforts to advance DEI and push for continued progress in the face of roadblocks in support of students and marginalized communities.

Medical education needs to support the advancement of skills and behaviors alongside knowledge, so students can develop as complete physicians, ready to take on patient care. We’re rethinking measurement to facilitate this evolution, but we can’t do it without new perspectives and ideas.