Association of the COVID-19 Pandemic With Medical School Diversity Pathway Programs

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



JAMA network open








Importance: 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. Objectives: 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. Results: 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.


Emergency Medicine