By Brian S. Brown, MBA, Senior Clinical Practice Manager, Midwest Region
Every February, America honors the contributions and sacrifices of Black Americans who have helped shape the United States. Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history. I believe that it should create awareness, as well.
Lack of Diversity in Healthcare
An important issue facing the world of medicine and healthcare is the field’s lack of diversity, especially regarding Black doctors. Black Americans made up 6% of all physicians in the U.S. in 2008, 6.9% of enrolled medical students in 2013 and 7.3% of all medical school applicants, despite constituting 14.2% of the population, including those who declared more than one racial identity, according to the 2020 census.
Literature on the lack of diversity within the medical field emphasizes the role that inclusion would play in closing the health disparities among racial groups and the benefits acquired by Black communities through better patient-doctor interactions and further respect for cultural sensitivity. When Black doctors treat Black patients, patients experience better health and lower mortality. A study by Stanford’s Health Policy group found that Black men who visited Black doctors were more likely to follow preventive health guidelines than when they saw non-Black doctors.
When a patient cannot find clinicians that resemble them, their beliefs, their culture or other facets of their life, they run the risk of not being understood or being able to receive the appropriate treatment. Studies have shown that language and gender-concordant patient-physician relationships have similarly been associated with improved clinical outcomes. Such results suggest that patient-physician concordance may facilitate communication and trust.
Training a Diverse Healthcare Workforce
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established to serve the educational needs of Black Americans by providing an educational learning environment that caters to their unique challenges and cultural understandings. The U.S. Department of Education lists 4,298 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, HBCUs represent 2.3% of this total.
In the 2017-18 academic year, the Association of American Medical Colleges counted 6,188 Black students enrolled in U.S. medical schools. Meharry Medical College in Nashville and the Howard University School of Medicine – both HBCUs – each enroll more than 300 Black students, and the largest number of Black students at a predominately white medical school – 128 – is found at Indiana University.
There are a couple of approaches suggesting how to increase the number of Black physicians in America. The first is by increasing medical school class sizes by just one to two underrepresented minority students. The other is around the creation of a new medical school aligned with an HBCU with a similar mission as the current historically Black medical schools, which would also add to the flow of new Black physicians. If this or something similar can occur, someday, Black America will be able to celebrate increased clinicians, which will hopefully yield better clinical outcomes.
Increasing Diversity in Healthcare
TeamHealth is proud to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in an effort to perfect the practice of medicine, every day, in everything we do.
This year, TeamHealth has successfully launched its Black Cultural Resource Group – an affinity group whose focus is to better the experience and placement of Black colleagues throughout all levels of the TeamHealth organization and to advocate for equity for the Black community at large. Learn more about our diversity, equity and inclusion commitments.