If you needed urgent heart surgery to save your life, would you care about the racial background of your doctor? While you as a prospective patient in need of treatment may not care, Florida State University cares a great deal and recently received a grant worth $14.5 million from the National Institute of Health to promote diversity.

FSU’s “Florida-First Brigade” initiative is to “build a research community committed to diversity and inclusive excellence”. Diversity of medical professionals is the end-goal of the funds, not the provision or development of better medical care. Therein lies the problem.

The human body operates the same way across...

If you needed urgent heart surgery to save your life, would you care about the racial background of your doctor? While you as a prospective patient in need of treatment may not care, Florida State University cares a great deal and recently received a grant worth $14.5 million from the National Institute of Health to promote diversity.

FSU’s “Florida-First Brigade” initiative is to “build a research community committed to diversity and inclusive excellence”. Diversity of medical professionals is the end-goal of the funds, not the provision or development of better medical care. Therein lies the problem.

The human body operates the same way across individuals regardless of racial background. Theoretically, no patient, doctor or onlooker should care about the racial background of those giving or receiving care. Applying racial metrics to aspects of the healthcare profession is dangerously close to institutionalizing ideas of eugenics and the racialized science research of the twentieth century.

The first assumption behind NIH’s Diversity in Extramural Programs, the source of FSU’s “Florida-First Brigade”, is laudable enough. NIH is correct in asserting that diversity within a professional research setting is beneficial due to its leading to new questions being asked, and the fostering of better critical thinking in a profession. That is not the problem. The problem lies equating diversity of thought with diversity of racial background. Allocating funding based on innate characteristics such as race reduces each person to that characteristic alone. It would be no consolation for a grieving family to know that a loved one passed away on an operating table due to poor medical training, but that the doctors involved were carefully chosen based upon racial background.

As for FSU’s new program, research indicates that increasing the role of race in recruiting and retaining medical professionals will have a paradoxical effect on the profession itself. Preferences in academic programs, and increasingly in medicine due to grant programs like that of the NIH, often hurt minorities due to a “mismatch” of acumen and placement. In the University of California system, graduation rates among minorities improved after the use of racial preferences in admissions to college were outlawed. Outside funding efforts like those for FSU, could have a similar paradoxical effect. For aspiring medical professionals and patients in Florida, the march of the “Florida-First Brigade” could be detrimental if not devastating.

Grants for medical training could explicitly focus on alternative to diversity. Instead of pursuing diversity as a stated outcome, the NIH and other grant funders should focus on fostering cutting edge care and merit-based competence in the medical profession. If culture within the medical profession is to hold a place of importance, promoting a culture of dignity and an unwavering commitment to protecting human life from disease and injury would do more than diversity ever could. Medicine needs to be a bastion in which the universal recognition of human fragility should predominate trumps metrics of diversity. If the color of patients, doctors and researchers takes precedent over defeating disease and preserving life, how much common humanity is there in the first place? That question is not being asked. If greater research acumen, expertise, and critical thinking is the goal, anonymized testing for skill and empathy would do far more to foster better care than choosing based on skin color. It is something for the NIH to consider.