Amid growing racial and ethnic diversity in the United States, the medical profession isn’t growing with it.
Between 1978 and 2008, 88 percent of graduates of U.S. medical schools were white or Asian. Blacks, American Indians and Hispanics together made up the remaining 12 percent.
According to the Washington Post, On average, black men in America die nearly half a decade earlier than white men, and have among the shortest life expectancies of any major demographic group. Having more black doctors might reduce deaths caused chronic disease, but many black men don’t have the opportunity to see doctors who look like them. Nor do members of other racial and ethnic groups.
A NEJM article reported Since 1978, there has been just a four- percentage-point increase in the proportion of Hispanic medical school graduates and less than a two-point increase in black graduates. The number of black men in medical school has actually declined since the 1990s, and black women now outnumber black men 2 to 1 in medical school.
While individual interactions between doctors and patients are important, a more diverse physician workforce could also have broader effects. It could help us move toward a system in which the lived experience of minority groups is better understood and validated, and the barriers they face more readily identified and addressed.
According to a JAMA article, Students who attend medical schools with more-diverse student bodies feel more prepared to care for patients from different backgrounds. And more-diverse research groups may be more likely to explore the interests of marginalized populations and to publish more impactful studies.
Research suggests that greater exposure to people of other backgrounds can reduce bias and that black patients who are treated at hospitals with more-diverse patient populations fare better, possibly because doctors are more familiar with their social and cultural circumstances.
Progress toward a more equitable system will require focusing on more diversity in the medical field.