Lack of Diversity in Healthcare Professions, Explained Pt. I
by Allison Danish, MPH
The healthcare system in this country is predicated on unconscious bias and a empirical history of racism. This is a huge problem that leads to inequity of care at best, and (as we’re seeing up close & personal with COVID-19) death at worst. There are many reasons these issues persist for BIPOC in healthcare, and an important piece of this puzzle resides in a lack of culturally competent care for BIPOC people.
How diverse is the healthcare workforce?
In a word? Not very. Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) make up 40% of the population, but only:
- 6% of pharmacists
- 2% of dentists & RNs
- 8% of cardiologists (excluding Asian Americans)
- 8% of PhD students
What happens when healthcare lacks diversity?
- The majority of providers are white and are more likely to treat white communities—which means BIPOC patients have less access to care.
- BIPOC patients report lower quality of care provided by clinicians who do not share their racial/ethnic background.
- Without a diverse group of health care providers, cultural and linguistic barriers are more likely to inhibit effective care.
The result: negative healthcare outcomes
- For many cancer types, Black people have higher death rates than all other groups.
- Cardiovascular disease death rates are 33% higher among Black folks compared to the total population.
- Pregnancy related deaths are 4-5x more likely in Black & American Indian/Alaska Native women compared to white women over 30.
- Black children are 4.9x more likely die from asthma compared to white children.
What does the future hold?
BIPOC will make up an estimated 54% of the US population by 2050—and if we hope to provide quality care to an increasingly diverse population—health care practitioners must grow accordingly with population demographics.
Understanding the problem to be a part of the solution
The research is hard to stomach, but it's the truth. We'll do our best to share data that explains how the system got here, so that we can better understand what's in our collective power to change.
U.S. Census Bureau, 2019
Jackson, C. S. (et al.). Addressing Health and Health-Care Disparities: The Role of a Diverse Workforce and the Social Determinants of Health (2014)
Mehta, L. S. (et al.). Current Demographic Status of Cardiologists in the United States (2019)
HHS AMCH, Reflecting America's Population: Diversifying a Competent Health Care Workforce for the 21st Century (2011)
Smedley .B. D. (et al.). Health Care's Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce (2004)
Mitchell, D. A. (et al.). Addressing Health Care Disparities and Increasing Workforce Diversity: The Next Step for the Dental, Medical, and Public Health Professions (2006)
National Cancer Institute. Cancer Disparities (2019)
American Heart Association. Bridging the Gap: CVD Health Disparities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths (2019)
Volerman, A. (et al.). Solutions for Asthma Disparities (2017)
Passel, J. S. and Cohn, D. U.S. Population Projections: 2005-2050 (2008)