NZMA says yes to affirmative action in admission to medical school

The medical students of today are the medical workforce of tomorrow – and it’s essential the future workforce reflects and serves our diverse community.

That’s why the NZ Medical Association has adopted a new position statement on admission to medical school, strongly supporting affirmative action selection policies, Chair Dr Alistair Humphrey says.

“Several sections of the population including Māori, Pacific peoples and those from rural communities are grossly under-represented in the current medical workforce,” Dr Humphrey says.

“Diversity of the medical workforce is beneficial for meeting the health needs of diverse populations. Mounting international evidence suggests that patients with the same racial or ethnic background as their doctor are likely to have better outcomes.

“There are many reasons to support affirmative action – it’s fair, it’s right, and it means better health for all New Zealanders.”

Other key points in adopting the position include:

  • The sociodemographic characteristics of health professional students influence future career choices in terms of place of practice and types of population served
  • Addressing Māori health and health equity by measures such as increasing the numbers of Māori medical students is supported by both needs-based and rights-based arguments.
  • Universities have an obligation to honour te Tiriti o Waitangi, including the responsibility to correct inequitable health outcomes experienced by Māori.

The new position statement replaces the NZMA’s 2006 statement.

The 2021 position statement in full:

The NZMA believes that medical schools in New Zealand should select and train medical students that are representative of, appropriate for, and sufficient in number for our population, taking into account current and future health and workforce needs.

The NZMA strongly supports affirmative action selection policies to medical school that include, but are not limited to, increasing the numbers of Māori, Pacific peoples, those from rural communities, low socioeconomic and refugee backgrounds. These policies need to go beyond simply matching entry numbers to population proportions so that they deliver the representative medical workforce required to meet the future health needs of Aotearoa.

Universities should ensure appropriate partnership and consultation with groups that are affected when developing and refining affirmative action selection policies to medical school.

To the extent that is possible, universities should be transparent about how affirmative action selection policies work.

The NZMA supports equitable access to medical school programmes for applicants and students with a disability where this is possible, as part of inclusive medical education.

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