Understanding Systemic Diversity Issues in Healthcare

With dramatically shifting patient demographics and changing patient composition in the US, we are failing to observe corresponding shifts with physicians and healthcare executives. In the year 2000, census figures reported that the United States comprised of about 20% minorities. Today, minorities represent about 40% of the American population. The population of the US is changing to more Latinos, more women, and more elderly, while many healthcare organizations are primarily run by white men and women. Ultimately, these statistics highlight the need for more diversity in healthcare.

Studies indicate that patients often prefer to be treated by physicians that share their demographic traits. Countless studies are proving that we prefer being around people that are similar to us. We are more likely to share vital information with those we perceive to be trustworthy – it’s a natural response to trust someone that has more in common with you.

Ultimately, health care is about making the patient feel comfortable, and there is a calming effect when a healthcare practitioner walks through your door that possesses characteristics that are similar to you.

Diversity and inclusion is all about reflecting and understanding the community that we serve. The more we can reflect those who we are serving, the better we will be able to serve them. About 6% of American physicians identify as African-American, while the African-American population represents about 13% of the US population. It’s clear we need to start emphasizing diversity in healthcare more.  

We Should be Doing More to Facilitate Diversity in Healthcare

Working in healthcare requires traversing a lengthy, challenging path. We must ask ourselves, “Are the preparatory systems set up to serve people of all types of backgrounds?”. Ultimately, there’s unlimited access to sickness, but limited access to the skills and training it takes to develop professional capabilities and positions in the healthcare industry.  

By bridging the gap, we are developing a healthcare community that more closely reflects its patients. Ultimately, we will position ourselves to see greater levels of patient care by nurturing a greater understanding. Diversity in healthcare is not simply the act of meeting employment quotas – it’s a path to eliminating human suffering.

Doug Harris, CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group, references a period where he was working with a well-known university’s med school. During conversations with the school’s administration, Harris discovers that their statistics suggest that you start applying for med school in the 2nd grade. Ultimately, if you’re not in your school’s science fair in the second grade, you’re more than likely not on a path that leads into med school. Furthermore, 96% of people color in med school are the children of physicians. What this means is that making it to med school requires grooming from a very young age.

Greater Outcomes with Diversity in Healthcare

We should be taking on and refining societal challenges including the costs, preparation, and resources for developing healthcare professionals. Our current system is dynamic and perhaps transient for some groups. We need to play our part by encouraging minority groups to start focusing on healthcare and STEM fields including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Furthermore, we need to facilitate access to these fields by providing the resources to education and mentoring.  

We see a close parallel with the policing situation in many predominantly minority communities. The question arises that if minority communities were policed by people who’s demographics better reflect their community, would there be different outcomes in how situations are handled and conflict is managed?

The best way to find the answers to these questions is by making it happen and reviewing the outcomes. We are a diverse group of people. With more diversity in healthcare, the quality of our healthcare improves. Ultimately, it’s time to start reaching out to our minority youth and encouraging them to become the best version of themselves and start joining these lucrative and demanding fields.

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