Life is filled with good intentions. The concept of Affirmative Action is but one of these.
The editor’s experience as an Associate Professor of neurosurgery at Temple University Health Sciences Center in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in the 1970s served as a personal “wake-up call” for some of these good intentions.
During this period Temple University made a valiant attempt to include in its medical school applicants those who were underprivileged or minorities. It soon became evident that such students would require extra help and this was than provided to them on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, the students involved, caught on that the institution intended to not let them fail by providing unique privileges and also allowing them to take tests over again. The result of this effort was a loss of motivation on the part of the affirmative action students because they developed an attitude that “they would not be allowed to fail”. The non-affirmative action students began to look down on their classmates and amongst themselves labeled them as “the dummies.”
Many of the affirmative action students actually made it to the clinical specialty rotations at which time they were subject to verbal examinations by faculty. The answer to the question as to how a specific clinical problem might be treated was often answered by the response “I just didn’t have enough time to study that area.” It was pointed out that a physician care-giver would not fare well giving this response to the family of a bereaved patient who had been inappropriately cared for.
Few of these affirmative action medical students made it to medical school graduation. Sadly, they had been deprived of their greatest asset, the motivation to succeed. This sad, but well-intentioned, program failed. The lesson learned was to select students based on their previous merits irrespective of their backgrounds or ethnicity.