Association of American Indian Physicians Statement on SCOTUS Ruling on Affirmative Action

August 4, 2023

Association of American Indian Physicians Statement on SCOTUS Ruling on Affirmative Action

The Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP) is deeply disappointed and concerned by the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States to reverse the limited consideration of race/ethnicity in admissions to achieve higher education student body diversity. This decision reversed decades of legal precedent that recognized diversity as a compelling interest in student admissions to higher education.

AAIP strongly agrees with Justice Jackson, who stated in her dissent that “intergenerational transmission of inequality still plagues our citizenry” and that “our country has never been colorblind.” We strongly believe racial and ethnic diversity must be promoted and celebrated across educational and workforce settings. From our experience, diversity strengthens our society by leading to more creativity, innovation, and more robust perspectives and opinions.

The significant healthcare disparities that continue to exist in the United States drive a compelling need to increase diversity in our healthcare workforce. A diverse healthcare workforce can better serve diverse patient populations and improve patient outcomes. We are concerned that this Supreme Court decision could further undermine American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) healthcare students’ access to education to achieve their dream of caring for their own, just as our ancestors did for thousands of years on this land.

In addition to being counted as a race in federal statistics, federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Nations have a unique political and legal relationship with the U.S. government. Tribal nations are sovereign governments, and this status is enshrined within the U.S. Constitution and treaties with the U.S. government. AI/AN tribal citizens are supposed to benefit from this federal trust responsibility, but they continue to suffer significant healthcare disparities. We are concerned that AI/ANs are the most underrepresented group among all U.S. physicians. Universities and medical schools must find ways to ensure AI/ANs interested in health professions are supported in their career pathways at all levels, especially since many of these schools are recipients of federal funding. Also, land grant universities and other institutions must improve the educational and career opportunities for AI/AN Tribal Nations and their citizens residing in their state.

We encourage universities and medical schools to consider the non-race-based and unique contributions of AI/AN students that strengthen and enhance diversity in the academic community. These contributions include their cultural background, personal and community experiences, and intellectual and creative perspectives that are often unique compared to other students. Some AI/AN students also bring additional diversity if they are first-generation students, have experience with low socio-economic status, live in rural areas, or can share exceptional “distance traveled” journeys. Our call to action to universities and medical schools to redouble their efforts to recruit, support, and retain AI/AN students is urgent, given the extremely low percentage of AI/AN students who access higher education in comparison to other groups and the severe and urgent need for AI/AN healthcare professionals in tribal communities.

The Association of American Indian Physicians stands ready to assist higher education entities in their work to help increase the number of AI/AN physicians.