"Fewer and Better Doctors:" Medical School Admission in the United States, 1900-1970

Andrew Simmons, University of Rhode Island


Two perennial problems facing the medical profession in the United States are a lack of diversity among practitioners (both racial and socioeconomic) and physician shortages. Historically, the profession sought to control the number of physicians it produced in the nation’s medical schools while also failing to admit applicants from diverse backgrounds. This study explores the history of medical school admission and how its legacies of discrimination and deliberate restriction of places in medical schools, particularly for women and African Americans, continue to disadvantage promising applicants from backgrounds historically underrepresented in the medical profession. Sources for this study include oral histories, descriptive statistics from the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, autobiographies, reports on medical education from the early and mid-twentieth century, and archival documents from the University of Michigan Medical School. From these multiple sources, a picture emerges of how women and African Americans in the early twentieth century negotiated an admission process that was biased against them as well as efforts after 1970 by the medical schools to rectify systemic discrimination.