Doctors Will Be More Diverse In the Future

But they're still far from being representative of the U.S. population.
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(Photo: valeriiaarnaud/Shutterstock)

(Photo: valeriiaarnaud/Shutterstock)

When it comes to diversity among doctors, things are getting better, but there's still a long way to go.

That's according to a new analysis published today in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Among practicing doctors in the United States, fewer than one in three is a woman, while five percent or fewer are black or Hispanic, the analysis finds. But among medical students and doctors in post-graduate training, those numbers creep closer to representative, especially for women. This trend suggests that we'll see a more diverse doctor workforce in the future, so long as women and underrepresented minorities stay in the profession at the same rates men, whites, and Asians do. Here's the breakdown:

DOCTORS WORKING RIGHT NOW

  • Thirty percent female.
  • Five percent Hispanic.
  • Four percent black.

DOCTORS IN GRADUATE TRAINING

  • Forty-six percent female.
  • Eight percent Hispanic.
  • Six percent black.

MEDICAL STUDENTS

  • Forty-eight percent female.
  • Seven percent Hispanic.
  • Seven percent black.

Any doctor can provide good care, of course, but a few documented trends suggest it might be helpful to patients if their physicians were more diverse. Black and Hispanic-American doctors are more likely to choose to practice in communities with higher proportions of black and Hispanic people, which also tend to have a shortage of doctors. One study, published in 1999, found that black patients are more likely to say their doctor included them in decision-making if that doctor was black. The scientists of that study posited that doctors might communicate better with patients who share their race. Indeed, several other studies have shown as much; doctors, like everyone else, often hold unconscious biases, which might keep them from communicating optimally with some patients, even if they want to.

How can doctors improve diversity in their ranks? The analysis identifies which specialties seem to attract the most women and underrepresented minorities (obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine) and which attract the least (orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology). A closer look at these numbers might provide some hints about how to make all specialties more attractive to underrepresented folks. Maybe some dedicated programs would help. "I am unaware of any organized program to attract students or retain trainees who are underrepresented minorities," maternal-fetal medicine specialist Laura Riley wrote in an op-ed accompanying the analysis. Should anyone try to start such a program, this analysis should provide some important data.

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