The physician shortage has many disparate causes: few seats in U.S. medical schools, an aging population, a higher rate of retiring physicians, fewer residency positions in key specialties, and more. But one element in particular seems to slip under the radar: lack of physician diversity. This deficit of diversity in medicine will have a major impact on the medical profession in the next few decades.
A Diverse Country Needs Diverse Physicians
By 2044, no one race will be the clear majority in the United States. Considering how long it takes to become a physician — approximately fifteen years from pre-medical to licensure — the lack of diversity in medical students today needs to be addressed in order to prepare for the coming decades. While the country becomes more diverse, having physicians come from one background will negatively impact patients’ healthcare.
Diverse Physicians Mean Healthier Patients
Currently, medicine is a fairly homogenous profession. While nearly 49% of physicians are white, only 9% of practicing physicians are Latino, African American, and Native American, an imbalance that greatly affects patient care. Patients are more comfortable, trusting, and communicative with physicians who speak their primary language or are from similar cultural backgrounds, all of which leading to better treatment outcomes.
Diverse Physicians Practice in Underserved Areas
The geographic distribution of physicians shows that States with few black and Latino doctors — sometimes in the single or lower double digits — tend to be more ethnically homogenous. However, they still suffer from the physician shortage. Patients have to travel miles to see a physician and some areas may not have specialists at all. It’s worse in ethnically diverse areas in these states, such as Native American reservations in South Dakota, where patients have to travel miles at odd times of the day to see a physician. Minority physicians are more likely than others to practice in low-income areas, where the physician shortage has hit hardest.
AUA Supports Diversity
U.S. medical schools tout diversity initiatives, but little comes of them. In 2014, less black men applied to U.S. medical schools than in 1978. Despite the fact that black and Latinos’ mean MCAT scores are lower than their white counterparts, and the suspected racial bias in standardized testing that may be causing this, admission to U.S. schools is increasingly dependent on MCAT scores. AUA is proud to support and foster a diverse community through our holistic admissions policy and mission to enroll qualified underrepresented minorities. Our forward-thinking philosophy will hopefully help bridge the diversity gap in medicine in the coming decades.