It’s a pressing concern: minority doctors are needed in healthcare.
According to the study Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare, issued by the Institute of Medicine, and more recent data, Hispanics, African-Americans, and other minority groups receive poorer healthcare quality than non-minorities. And one of the proposed solutions for dealing with this problem is creating a workforce of multicultural physicians – the idea being that physicians of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds will be more culturally competent and give better care to minority patients.
There is some warrant to this concept, as minority physicians are more inclined to reach out to the communities they come from. As Dr. Louis Sullivan, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, explains: “‘… African American physicians and Hispanic American physicians are three to five times more likely to establish their practices in African American or Hispanic American communities.”‘
Minority doctors, being a part of these communities, also understand the patients better, which ultimately results in better health services. “‘What happens with the health outcome, depends upon good communication, the trust and credibility between the health professional and the individual seeking care, and an understanding of the patient’s culture, value system, so that one can develop, hopefully, a strong relationship or interaction between the health professional and the individual,’” says Dr. Sullivan.
However, while the idea of using a multicultural workforce to improve health outcomes for minorities may be sound, its realization has not been so simple.
In one of her first speeches, Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin discussed the fact that minority doctors represent 6% of all physicians – the same number as a century ago – and called for stepped-up recruitment efforts. And in giving his outlook on the future of physician diversity, Dr. Louis Sullivan said, “‘It will be decades before our health care system truly mirrors the makeup of our general population.’”
Nonetheless, while the future may look bleak, there is hope on the horizon.
A growing number of Hispanic students are enrolling in medical schools nationwide, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Since 2004, applications from Hispanics have risen 22.9%, with nearly 6% of that growth occurring in 2010-2011, as indicated by a recent Chicago Sun-Times article.
“‘For 30 or 40 years there have been intentional efforts at trying to make sure that all underrepresented populations understand that medicine is a wonderful career,”‘ said Dr. Marc Nivet, Chief Diversity Officer of AAMC. “‘I think we are starting to gain some traction in the Hispanic population.”‘
While the numbers are still not adequate enough to support the growing US Hispanic population, they do demonstrate an emerging trend: more and more Hispanics are becoming involved in medicine, which can ultimately translate into improving healthcare for minority communities.
However, it is only a small piece of the pie, and the process of reform is, likely, going to take some time.
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