Racial inequality within the field of medicine not only fails to represent some of the country’s largest minority groups, but it is also hampering progress in provision of care to patients.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the AMA, 1/8th of Americans are African American, yet only 1/15th of doctors are. Even more staggering, 1/6th of Americans are Hispanic or Latino, yet only 1 out of every 20 doctors are. In 2012, only 1,332 African Americans and 1,701 U.S. Hispanics/Latinos were accepted into medical schools in the U.S. Together, these two minority groups as well as Native Americans make up a third of the population of America, yet they only account for 8.7 % of the country’s doctors. Greater diversity within the field of medicine will often result in greater access to healthcare. According to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, minority doctors are more likely to provide health services to the communities that they came from, which are often underserved. In the U.S., where minority groups have historically found it difficult to find access to quality healthcare, diversity in the field of medicine allows better care for the underserved populations that need it the most.
By Bill Branson (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In terms of patient satisfaction, diversity in the physician population encourages better health outcomes in a variety of ways. Both patient satisfaction and health outcomes are unarguably improved by a better doctor-patient relationship, and studies have shown that a sense of familiarity helps to bolster this relationship by enhancing communication. When a patient feels a sense of similarity with their physician, their levels of trust, satisfaction, and adherence to treatment are all improved.
Diversity in medicine ends with better patient outcomes, but it starts in medical school. Today more than ever, efforts must be made to engage minorities in the field of medicine. Creating ethnically diverse peer groups in medical education is critical not just to put more individuals who represent minorities into the medical workforce, but to improve the efficacy of the medical workforce overall. Statistics from the AAMC have shown that medical students who are educated in a heterogeneous environment tend to have a greater confidence in themselves to treat patients from a variety of backgrounds. An ethnically diverse peer group allows opportunities for individuals who have been trained together to learn with and from each other—broadening perspectives, challenging assumptions, and providing an environment for socialization between varying ethnic, racial, and social groups. This will ultimately make each physician better prepared to provide treatment and care for the diverse population of patients, regardless of their own personal background.
Minority groups are sadly underrepresented in the population of U.S. clinicians. This applies to a variety of factors not limited to race, that include gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. The recent #ILookLikeASurgeon movement provided an widely inspirational platform for surgical professionals to step forward and celebrate their diversity, and as minority groups continue to embrace their unique identities, the demographics of medical professionals should adjust in kind to more accurately represent the demographics of the U.S. population.