By Allison Dean
The medical industry is one known to lack a diverse workforce. Based on the American Medical Student Association’s (AMSA) reports, African American, Latino, and Native American practicing physicians make up only 6 percent of all practicing physicians in the United States. Given that 26 percent of the U.S.’s population consists of ethnic minorities, this demonstrates just how much the medical industry lacks diversity. Due to this and projected U.S. population changes, many have begun to plead for a more diverse medical industry.
Population Changes in the Future
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections, ethnic minority populations are expected to see serious population increases between their 2010 standings and 2050 projections. Latino and Asian populations are expected to double and African American populations are expected to almost double. Meanwhile, the white population, though it will increase slightly, is expected to go from representing 65 percent of the population to 50 percent.
Why Population Changes Demand a Diverse Work Force
With these population changes comes an increased demand for a more diverse medical industry for two primary reasons. First, diversity allows those in the medical industry to adequately and effectively treat patients. According to Why Diversity Matters in Health Care, “…diversity encompasses all of the potential differences that affect how we interpret and behave… [Thus, knowing] how to serve people with different values, health beliefs and alternative perspectives about health and wellness is a business imperative in the most diverse regions of the U.S.” Relevantly, the AMSA has stated that a work force that lacks diversity leads to a biased and prejudiced medical care environment. Given this, a diverse workforce in the medical industry serves two purposes: 1) Patients will have access to health care professionals with similar beliefs, values, and perspectives; and 2) It allows health care professionals themselves to become more tolerant and understanding of those with differing beliefs, values, and perspectives. This is accomplished by interaction with their diverse peer group. From this understanding and tolerance, patients will find it easier to trust health care professionals, and health care professionals will be better able to accommodate patients with care that coincides with their values and beliefs. All of this will aid the medical industry’s pursuit to provide citizens with quality medical care.
Second, ethnic minorities may be harmed by a workforce that lacks diversity. Ethnic minority medical professionals have a tendency to treat those who are uninsured or considered to have a low income; “Nearly half of patients seen by African American physicians and one-third of patients seen by Asian and Pacific Islander and Hispanic physicians are Medicaid or uninsured patients” (AMSA). And, because uninsured Americans and low income Americans are both more likely to be ethnic minorities, this means that minority medical professionals are more likely to care for other minorities. This corresponds with the idea that people prefer to be treated by medical professionals that share their values and beliefs, and with the belief that citizens would benefit from a diverse medical industry.
How the ACA, If Effective, Will Diversify the Medical Industry
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are both working to better diversify the U.S.’s medical industry in several ways, according to the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.
First, both programs will increase the National Health Service Corps’ funding. Said organization works to provide citizens with loans and scholarships in an effort to give medical providers incentives to work in areas that lack in health care services.
Second, both programs give financial aid in the development and operation of primary care training programs for medical professionals such as nurses, social workers, and physicians. “Priority…[is] given to programs that have a record of training individuals from underrepresented, disadvantaged, or rural backgrounds and include training in cultural competency and health literacy.”
Third, both programs will reestablish funding for the Centers of Excellence (COE) and the Health Career Opportunity Programs (HCOP). COEs are programs that work to improve minority representation in education and the workforce; for instance, said programs try to improve “underrepresented minority student[s’] academic performance…[and the] recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority facult[ies]….” HCOPs are programs that work to encourage and help those “from disadvantaged backgrounds enter and graduate from a health or allied health professions program….”
If these programs do as they are intended, the U.S. could see a more diverse workforce sooner rather than later.
Allison Dean is a blogger/writer who saw the need for an educational resource that laypersons could depend on when they had legal problems. Concentrating on the legal side of the medical industry, Allison spends her professional life writing about how to find a medical malpractice attorney that will have citizens’ interests at heart.