Given the massive cultural differences among patients, the US healthcare system must attract diverse medical professionals to provide the best possible care.
Diversity plays an invaluable role in society and, specifically, in fields like medicine. Given the massive cultural differences among patients, ensuring the US healthcare system consists of culturally diverse medical professionals is essential to its success. According to medical writer Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N, a heterogeneous makeup of medical professionals allows for fresh perspectives and ultimately delivers a more equitable healthcare system.
A healthcare system comprised of medical professionals from varying ethnicities, gender expressions, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds is ideal. An editorial in Cureus examined diversity in residency programs, finding that a mere 15% of medical residents are “underrepresented minority groups,” whereas those groups comprise around one-third of the US population. Since 2018, only 5.8% of practicing physicians were Hispanic, 5.0% were black, and 0.3% were Indigenous Americans, the authors noted. They concluded that an excellent strategy for decreasing health outcome disparities would be attempting to match residents with the patient populations in their area, which would have the added benefit of creating a medical-professional workforce with more robust cultural understanding and “broader research agendas in clinical study design.”
According to a report in JAMA Network Open, when many individuals are still children, they begin to feel a spark of interest in becoming a medical professional one day. As such, a diverse group of physician role models must connect with young children. The authors found that “successful diversity programs link residents to the pre-health pathway,” beginning with their elementary and secondary school experiences. For instance, young students can gain exposure to the medical field via avenues like first-aid workshops, career fairs, and shadowing opportunities.
Student education can carry on into community colleges, universities, and post-baccalaureate programs, according to Climan. She cites Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement’s (MESA’s) partnership with a residency program, which offered students at a community college the opportunity to take a pre-med workshop. Another residency program engages in annual recruitment excursions to historically black colleges and universities, setting up the framework for ongoing mentorship.
According to the JAMA Network Open authors, internships have proven to be an excellent starting point for bolstering diversity in residency programs, allowing students to experience clinical immersion and faculty mentorship. The authors found that a quarter of interns ultimately paired up with a residency program. To increase diversity, some residency programs expand their application criteria, examining not just test scores but also qualitative factors like community service and life experience. Additionally, many residency programs seek to attract a more diverse resident group via measures that include payment for outreach work, medical rotations in underserved communities, and recognition of religious and cultural holidays. All the above actions aid in creating a more diverse residency population and will help to improve the future of the US healthcare system.