Diversity in Medicine
Changing Demographics in the U.S. and Under-representation in Medicine
Today, minority populations are the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives made up 26.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1995. By 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections, these groups will make up 32.0 percent of the population, and, by 2050, 47.2 percent. Thus, physicians of the next century will provide care to a population whose characteristics will differ markedly from those of the population in the United States today, and who may have significantly different patterns of disease and health care needs.
The report contends that these projected demographics call for two parallel responses:
- Enlisting greater numbers of minority physicians into the work force;
- Training all physicians to become culturally competent to care for all populations.
Physicians must learn appropriate communications skills, understand ways to identify health beliefs in different groups, and understand the barriers and biases that limit access to health care systems.
The Health Status of Minority Populations
Black Americans, Mainland Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives have some of the worst health indicators among U.S. population groups. Some indicators of poorer health status, which vary by and within specific minority populations, include lower life expectancy, greater prevalence of chronic diseases, and poorer outcomes for pregnancy. In addition, minorities obtain some technological and surgical procedures and routine health care preventive services less frequently than whites do.
The report contends that physicians from racial and ethnic minority groups can help improve access to care for minority groups. These minority physicians are more likely than white physicians to practice in underserved areas and are more likely to care for minority, poor, underinsured, and uninsured persons. At the same time, to adequately serve the diverse minority population, all physicians need to be appropriately trained in cultural competency.
From the Council on Graduate Medical Education's Minorities in Medicine Report 1998.