Why it matters
Improving diversity among health professionals has been an important initiative for decades. Increased diversity in the health care workforce has demonstrated benefits to improved health outcomes. Besides creating a workforce more representative of the communities it serves, there are three commonly identified values to having a diverse workforce.
Increased quality of care
A medical professional who understands the history, beliefs, behavior and attitudes of underserved or underrepresented minority patients (also known as ‘cultural competence’) will have the best ability to communicate and treat effectively. Moreover, giving patients the option to interact with a health care professional from a similar background may foster a stronger doctor-patient relationship. Not to mention, this could also reduce much of the anxiety associated with visiting the doctor and increase a patient’s satisfaction with the care they receive.
Enhanced access to care
Many underserved communities, especially those in urban settings, have large minority populations with limited access to health care services. This can propagate health inequity when workforce capacity is disproportionately greater in suburban communities. Health care professionals from an underrepresented minority group are more likely to practice in an underserved area. Therefore, increased diversity in the health care workforce has the potential to expand workforce capacity and reduce the gap in health care access and treatment.
Advancements in research
As with the health workforce that provides patient care, there is a need for diversity among medical researchers. Many diseases have greater negative impacts on racial and ethnic minorities. However, these same groups are less likely to participate in research. Diversity in the investigative team may increase diversity in the study population as participants may wish to interact with investigators from similar backgrounds.
Though increased diversity is needed, there already exists a proven history of great medical discoveries from minority researchers. In celebration of Black History Month, below is a short list of medical research and inventions by previous and current African American physicians that have significantly impacted the advancement of health care and research.