Study Shows Few Improvements in Racial, Ethnic Diversity in Doctor Programs Since 2011

(Reuters Health) – Despite efforts to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of physicians in the United States, the proportion of minorities in medicine has barely budged, and lags the groups’ growth rate in the general population, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Although the share of minority groups underrepresented in medicine in the U.S. population grew by 2.1 percentage points from 2011 through 2019, representation of minorities increased by just 0.27 percentage points among residents in surgical specialties and 1.14 percentage points for non-surgical specialities, according to a team led by Lauren Hucko of the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

“Ultimately, improving representation in medicine is a patient care issue worthy of our continued attention,” they said. “A diverse physician workforce can improve outcomes for patients who identify with racial and ethnic minority groups.”

By 2019, Black, Hispanic, Latino, Native American or Alaska Native individuals made up 32.2% of the U.S. population. However, members of those groups collectively represented only 12.3% of residents in surgical specialties and 14.2% in nonsurgical specialties.

The trend was slightly downward for Black doctors in non-surgical specialties. While they represented 6.4% of residents in 2011, the proportion was 5.5% by 2019.

The Association of American Medical Colleges, American College of Graduate Medical Education and residency programs throughout the U.S. have been involved in programs to try to increase diversity, “Our data shows that despite those attempts, diversity in U.S. allopathic residency programs still lags behind that of the U.S. population,” senior author Dr. Jayanth Sridhar, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer told Reuters Health in an email.

The researchers picked 2011 as the starting point because it was the first year with available public data and efforts were already underway to improve diversity at that time.

Dr. Sridhar suggested that at the residency and medical school level, institutions must take an active role in cultivating under-represented students, giving them access to mentors and personalized support.

Another step would be to make faculty more diverse.

“While 14% of the U.S. population identifies as Black and 17% identifies as Hispanic or Latinx, a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges demonstrated that only 3.6% of full-time medical school faculty were Black and 5.5% were Hispanic,” he said.

There’s also the problem of discrimination, with one study finding that 23.7% of surgical residents reported discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion, including 70.7% of Black males.

“Residency programs should pursue a zero-tolerance approach to racial discrimination,” said Dr. Sridhar.

An underlying factor: public school districts where the majority of students are children of color receive far fewer educational funds per pupil than predominantly white districts, he said.

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, online June 1, 2022.

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