- Dec. 1, 2020
-- Despite improvements, medical school students and healthcare professionals still do not reflect the diversity of their patients.
The percentages of acceptees (https://www.aamc.org/
2018) to and graduates (https://www.aamc.org/
2018-2019) from medical school for men and women are almost equal. But research shows (https://www.aamc.org/
medicine) almost 40% of women physicians go part-time or leave medicine completely within six years of completing their residencies. The majority of women reduce hours or leave to achieve a better work-family balance. Women in medicine (https://www.aamc.org/
medicine) lessen their hours at significantly higher rates than men, pointing to larger issues in gender dynamics.
For physicians with disabilities, stereotypes affect perceptions of them and their abilities. One doctor that uses a wheelchair recalled how a fellow physician mistook her for a patient (https://stanmed.stanford.edu/listening/time-that-doctor-w...
) in the cafeteria even though she was wearing her uniform and had "doctor" written on her badge. While disability is often underreported, those that do identify themselves only make up 2.7% of physicians when including learning or psychological disabilities.
A lack of self-identifying, rather than actual absence, also accounts for the underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ doctors. While not much research has been conducted on sexual minorities in medicine (https://www.sgu.edu/blog/medical/pros-discuss-the-importa...
), one study from Stanford University found "about one-third...chose not to disclose...with 40 percent admitting they feared discrimination."
Diversity, or lack thereof, in healthcare professions also has roots in education, particularly for racial and ethnic minority groups and those with disabilities. Black men cited a lack of educational opportunities and economic barriers as key reasons for not pursuing medicine (https://www.auamed.org/
in-the-u-s/). Black women gave similar reasons adding that 40% recalled a "high school or college counselor trying to dissuade them" from a career in medicine.
Application barriers may also discourage students with disabilities. Schools' websites vary in advertising their accommodation policies (https://www.uofmhealth.org/
look). Researchers found only a third clearly stated they would accommodate students with disabilities that are otherwise qualified. In many cases, the technical standards (TSs), what a school will or will not accommodate, are not clear or readily available. Each school determines its TSs. Rather than helping students receive necessary accommodations, they may help institutions unwilling to make them disqualify students with disabilities (https://journalofethics.ama-
From prestigious universities to world-class hospitals, the need for greater diversity exists at all levels. Those that identify as members of underserved or underrepresented groups are not only more likely to serve those communities, understand their specific needs, and teach other students and physicians how to address them, making for better health care.