A few months ago, I was summarily fired as an editor-in-chief of the kidney section of the most widely used medical reference. UpToDate is used by tens of thousands of physicians every day, helping them make the best and most timely decisions for patient care. Even as I was fired, UpToDate’s leadership team praised my work.
So why did they fire me?
Over the previous four years, I had publicly questioned the rise of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” or DEI, in health care, expressing particular concern about its ubiquity in medical schools. That included the institution where I taught and served as an administrator for decades, the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. I thought I was engaging in a respectful discussion about the purpose of medical education and the role of medical professionals. Turns out, I was questioning a religious dogma, the adherents of which brook no debate, much less dissent.
For me, it all began in 2017. The Perelman School had just hired a vice dean for education who urged that we train medical students to be leaders in “social justice.” That set off alarm bells, since medical students are supposed to treat illnesses, not diagnose, much less cure, what ails society. Physicians simply have no agency to address these societal ills. My alarm turned to shock when the vice dean declared, “There’s way too much science in the curriculum,” a sentiment that was echoed when another colleague criticized me for not emphasizing climate change in the course of study. Clearly, these efforts were aimed at turning physicians into advocates for social and political issues. Medical education is built on a foundation of science—the key to eradicating disease and improving human wellness. Replacing that foundation is harmful to America’s health.
My concerns deepened as the school began launching new programs under the aegis of DEI to increase the diversity of medical-school classes. Later, it even began waiving MCAT requirements for some students who had attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities. While I firmly believe that people of all backgrounds can become great physicians, I also believe that high standards are essential to identifying the most promising students. Medical schools should be strengthening those standards for everyone, not weakening them for any one group. I also noticed a decline in standards as the medical school’s clinical departments began hiring vice chairs for diversity and inclusion. (There are now 20 and counting.)
This DEI focus was by no means restricted to the medical school at Penn. By 2019, I had begun to realize that virtually every medical school in America was emphasizing DEI and social justice at the expense of medical education and scientific excellence. I began to speak out, most notably with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which the paper’s editors titled “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me By My Pronouns.” In it, I lamented that future physicians are increasingly trained to be activists instead of, well, physicians.
Cue the mob.
For daring to criticize the spread of social justice in medical curricula, I was roundly condemned by my fellow physicians and medical educators. They took to social media in droves to accuse me of perpetuating racism, white supremacy, and every other evil known to humanity. At first, I thought nothing would come of the attacks, since they were largely contained to Twitter and Facebook. Alas, what happens on social media doesn’t stay there.
In short order, over 150 Perelman alumni signed an open letter condemning me. Colleagues of decades would no longer speak to me. When I’d walk by in the halls, conversations would stop. The reaction overshadowed my long-planned retirement, but the attacks didn’t stop when I finally left in 2021. My name was subsequently scrubbed from the university’s website. I’ve also been excised from its history of the kidney division, despite being a co-director of the division for several years.
It quickly became apparent that my beloved medical profession, to which I had devoted more than 50 years, was spiraling downward even faster than I had realized. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the decline, as did the death of George Floyd in 2020. Suddenly, medical schools were loudly proclaiming that health care is “systemically racist,” that “medical reparations” are urgently needed, and that medical education and practice must fundamentally change. Whereas DEI and social justice were frequently discussed in 2018, by the end of 2020 they were the central facets of medical education, where they remain to this day.
Amid it all, I spoke with countless physicians and medical educators who told me they were terrified to speak up. So I tried to say what they could not, protected by my retirement. I wrote a book, using the same title as my infamous Wall Street Journal op-ed. And in 2022, I founded Do No Harm to draw public attention to the corruption of medicine.
Do No Harm points out that medicine is rushing down a dangerous road. Medical schools are further undermining standards in the name of diversity, leading to lower-quality students who will provide worse care as physicians. Medical journals are publishing shoddy research articles that eschew rigorous science and see racism around every corner and as the basis of health care disparities for various minority groups. Medical practice is moving to provide preferential access to care by race—a blatant form of discrimination. And medical policymakers have bought into the dangerous lie that patients should see physicians who have the same skin color. That’s called segregation, and it has no place in health care or anywhere else.
I’ve pointed out these dangers, and many others, in countless op-eds, articles, and media interviews over the past 18 months. The blowback has been as predictable as it’s been severe, with constant accusations of racism. That’s what led to my firing by UpToDate. Its leaders could no longer tolerate being associated with someone who, despite upholding the highest standards of professionalism and science, dared to question the ideological takeover of health care.
The UpToDate episode was painful, but I have no regrets. The blowback is coming, in large part, because we’re finding ways to fight and win against the Goliath that is DEI in medicine. Here are some of the weapons we’re using to great effect.
First, we have used social media and traditional media to inform the public about the ideological threats to medical care and medical education. We have placed over 2,500 individual items in various media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Free Press, National Review, and others. Do No Harm has now attracted over 5,000 members, including physicians, nurses, and concerned patients.
Next, we have used federal laws that make discriminatory practices based on race illegal. Employing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we have asked hundreds of institutions about the DEI madness they’re funding, promoting, and demanding of students and faculty. The DEI infection has spread in part because of a lack of transparency. We are demanding that transparency.
At the end of the day, DEI requires racial and gender discrimination. That’s illegal. We’ve filed civil-rights complaints with over 100 medical schools for their discriminatory actions. The federal government has opened dozens of investigations, and now medical schools are abandoning DEI-driven discriminatory practices as a result of these efforts.
We have also helped support legislative efforts to combat DEI policies in public medical schools. We’re working with lawmakers in more than a dozen states to eliminate DEI policies from medical schools and to uphold the highest standards in admissions and curricula. One state has already passed such a law, and we expect many more victories in the months and years ahead. There are so many opportunities to protect medical education and practice through sound public policy.
Can we cure the DEI infection in American medicine? We have to try. The future of health care hangs in the balance. So does the health of every American.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal on June 28, 2023, and is republished with permission.
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