August 31, 2018
The Power of Diversity in Medicine
Now, more than ever, we need doctors who look like their patients.
When you go to a doctor’s or dentist’s office, or to the pharmacy, how many of the staff members look like you?
Right now, there is a big diversity gap in the American healthcare system. In 2016, 55% of medical school applicants were white, and 54% of them were male. Only 7% were black, while Latinex comprised just 8% of the application pool. Underrepresented groups made up only 4% of medical school faculty and 8% of American doctors.
Diversity in the healthcare profession can make or break a patient’s trust in the system
At first glance, these numbers may not seem all that important. But whether underserved populations choose to enter the healthcare system often depends on having a doctor of color.
Many experts cite healthcare diversity as a key factor that can get patients who have shunned the system to re-engage with it.. According to 2016 statistics, 30% of African Americans and 42% of Latinex never visit a doctor over the course of a year, in contrast with just 23% of whites. This lack of engagement with the healthcare system has a significant impact. A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2009, African-Americans had a life expectancy of approximately 74.5 years. That compares to nearly 79 years for white men and women, 83 years for Latinex, and 86.5 years for Asian-Americans.
Researchers and industry experts believe that greater diversity among healthcare providers could help reduce the lifespan gap. Ongoing studies are researching whether a higher percentage of African-American healthcare professionals are improving life expectancy trends. These studies have yet to find a definitive link, but early results point toward a correlation.
Education is the answer
Change starts in the classroom. The next generation of doctors will receive training in cultural competency—learning how to meet the needs of diverse patient populations. But beyond that, we need a healthcare workforce that looks like the populations it serves. When medical schools focus on increasing the percentage of students from diverse backgrounds, we will have more physicians who are truly capable of serving a diverse patient population.
Learn more about CPASS Foundation
CPASS Foundation aims to open up the pathway of future jobs in healthcare and technology to underrepresented middle school, high school, and college students in Illinois. We offer exposure to STEM careers in medicine and other fields that many students have even never heard about. Sign up for our emails to learn how you can help invest in a more diverse future for STEM and healthcare.