Is the COVID-19 pandemic associated with changes in medical school diversity pathway programs?
This survey study of 12 medical school pathway program administrators and 112 osteopathic and allopathic schools found a decrease in diversity pathway programming since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the previous year. The participants reported that in-person experiences, including research and shadowing, and programs targeting elementary and middle school–aged students appeared to be the most affected.
The findings of this study suggest that diversity pathway programs were substantially disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic; the long-term outcomes of these disruptions are unknown.
Medical school pathway programs are a strategy to increase the diversity of the physician workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic may have negatively affected pathway programs, further challenging efforts to increase diversity.
To describe the changes in medical school pathway programs during the COVID-19 pandemic and identify methods for sustaining and supporting these programs during and after the pandemic.
Design, Setting, and Participants
A survey study using an exploratory sequential mixed-method design was conducted from January 4 to August 3, 2021. Semistructured interviews with a sample of medical school pathway program administrators and academic leaders of US allopathic and osteopathic medical school diversity pathway programs identified themes and patterns of change to pathway programs since the onset of the pandemic compared with previous years. These themes were used to develop a survey that was sent to medical schools to assess the association between COVID-19 and their programs.
Main Outcomes and Measures
The association between the COVID-19 pandemic and medical school diversity pathway programs was explored using interview and survey data assessing respondent characteristics; changes in the scope, size, and funding of programs in 2020 compared with previous years; and respondents’ perceptions of future needs for pathway programs.
Twelve program administrators and academic leaders were interviewed. Interviews revealed challenges and benefits of virtual programming in engaging and reaching students and speakers, the value of community partnerships to sustaining programming, and the importance of psychosocial support to mediating students’ mental health challenges due to COVID-19 and remote learning. Of 198 schools surveyed in the quantitative phase, 112 responded (56.6%), 106 (94.6%) of which had been sponsoring or assisting with pathway programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty-two respondents (39.6%) had reduced pathway programs since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the previous year. Program cancellations were more likely to be noted in elementary school–aged (50.0% decrease in programming; P = .01) and middle school–aged (32.6%; P = .02) students compared with older groups.
Conclusions and Relevance
In this survey study, schools indicated that pathway programs were disrupted by COVID-19. Ongoing and flexible supports may be needed to sustain these programs. These findings are timely given recent investments in equity-focused programs to diversify the health workforce.
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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.
Accepted for Publication: July 13, 2022.
Published: August 29, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.29086
Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2022 Batra S et al. JAMA Network Open.
Corresponding Author: Sonal Batra, MD, MST, Department of Emergency Medicine, The George Washington University, 2120 L St NW, Ste 450, Washington, DC 20011 (email@example.com).
Author Contributions: Dr Batra and Ms Orban had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Batra, Orban, Raichur, Trivedi, Naik, Haywood.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Batra, Orban, Raichur, Jennings, Naik, Bogucki.
Drafting of the manuscript: Batra, Orban, Raichur, Jennings, Trivedi, Naik.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Batra, Orban, Bogucki, Haywood.
Statistical analysis: Batra, Orban, Bogucki.
Obtained funding: Batra, Orban.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Batra, Orban, Raichur, Jennings, Trivedi, Naik.
Supervision: Batra, Orban, Haywood.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Batra reported receiving grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies Organizational Gift outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: This work was supported by the Bureau of Health Workforce, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
Disclaimer: The contents are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of, or an endorsement by, the HRSA, HHS, or US Government.
Additional Contributions: Thomas Guterbock, PhD (University of Virginia), reviewed and provided critical input to the survey, and Brittney Gordon, MD (Emory Department of Emergency Medicine), contributed to background research. No financial compensation was provided.
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