The American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges have recently made it their mission to turn medicine woke. The AMA is using its prestigious position as a respected medical organization to push its “Strategic Plan to Embed Racial Justice and Advance Health Equity” in all areas of healthcare. In the same spirit, the AAMC has handed down new standards that force medical schools to incorporate antiracism and social justice into their curriculum or risk losing accreditation.

The documents these organizations release are filled with lofty language about changing healthcare for the better and making society more just. But in reality, this effort is an unnecessary and harmful roadblock that places an undue burden on doctors by making their jobs exponentially harder.

For instance, doctors are no longer permitted to make decisions based solely on their medical knowledge, best judgment, and knowledge of the individual patients’ distinct health histories, lifestyles and needs.

Instead, they are instructed to incorporate a collectivist notion of healthcare into their thoughts. A lengthy document titled “Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts,” published by the AMA and the AAMC’s Center for Health Justice, challenges physicians to rethink the language they use in their work and to deconstruct and change “malignant narratives” that “create harm, undermining public health and the advancement of health equity.”

The language guide classifies individualism and meritocracy as harmful narratives.

How does “combatting malignant narratives” in any way help the patient recover from physical trauma? The answer: it doesn’t.

The guide also cautions doctors not to focus on patients’ behaviors and choices when tackling health problems. The guide warns that a focus on individuals and their choices places too much blame on the patient and ignores “political, structural and social determinants of health inequities.” 

For example, according to the guide, instead of saying, “Low-income people have the highest level of coronary artery disease in the United States,” doctors should say, “People underpaid and forced into poverty as a result of banking policies, real estate developers gentrifying neighborhoods, and corporations weakening the power of labor movements, among others, have the highest level of coronary artery disease in the United States.”

Of course, the best solution to physical malady, as all health science has settled for generations, is diet and exercise — which are individual behaviors that only the patient can pursue. Health disparities by race are actually disparities in individual behaviors, and the solution involves educating members of all demographics about the importance of eating well and exercising. Instead, this attempt to erase health disparities by collectivizing health outcomes inhibits doctors’ ability to do their jobs while not providing any benefit to patients or substantively advancing medical care.

Doctors are being pushed to view their patients as parts of monolithic groups, and they’re being told that acknowledging and challenging power dynamics between groups and embedded systems of oppression should be just as important a priority in their work as combating disease, perhaps even more important. And this pressure to do “health equity work” is mounting on medical students before they even enter their professional careers.

In October 2021, a task force at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine published a report on integrating social justice into the curriculum based on the AAMC’s new guidelines. One of the task force’s listed objectives is “to recognize and reward students who exemplify the (School of Medicine) competencies related to social justice.” At the same time, the task force recommends that UNC “improve accountability measures” for students who “contribute to a hidden curriculum that does not support (School of Medicine) values.”

As far as the explicit curriculum is concerned, the task force demands that UNC faculty “explain the difference between sex and gender and how specific organs and cells do not belong to specific genders” and “explicitly include antiracism content during lectures and small group discussions.”

It’s no longer enough for medical students to master the sciences. They now have to master social justice and antiracism if they want a medical career. And if they reject this ideology simply because they have a different worldview, they face the possibility of being punished for wrongthink.

Caring for the sick and injured and saving lives is no easy task. It requires tremendous skill and brain power. “Health equity work,” as the AMA and AAMC would call it, is a heavy and wholly unnecessary burden that doctors do not need shoved onto their shoulders. They have enough on their shoulders already.