The 2000 Census confirmed that the nation is becoming more diverse and minority groups are growing larger. So it only makes sense that physician practices would be interested in a diverse workforce.
"We believe that a diverse physician workforce sets the stage for treatment of a diverse population," says David Nash, M.D., associate dean for health policy at Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. "We're committed to it, but it's an uphill battle."
A 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that African-American and Hispanic patients are more likely to have a physician from the same minority group.
And a New England Journal of Medicine report one year later concluded that
communities with large black and Hispanic populations were four times more likely than other areas to have a physician shortage-regardless of socioeconomic status.
More recently, the AMA affirmed that racial and ethnic minorities--with the exception of Asians--are severely under-represented in medicine.
The problem is supply isn't keeping up with demand.
"I frequently get requests from all over the country to get physicians who speak Spanish," says Mark Diaz, M.D., a Sacramento, Calif., practitioner of occupational medicine. Diaz is a board member of the Washington-based National Hispanic Medical Association. "There's a huge gap in the numbers of Hispanic physicians that are available."
Distribution is another problem.
"We don't have the people in place right now, so unfortunately we have to focus on the manufacturing side," he says, meaning medical schools need to increase Hispanic enrollment.
Nash says schools are aware of the need.
"We are very interested in increasing minorities in medical education," he says, adding that it is hard to find qualified undergraduate students interested in medicine. "It's a national issue, not easily solved."
The Association of American Medical Colleges in 1991 launched Project 3000 by 2000, with the goal of attracting 3,000 minorities to medical school.
"We only got halfway there," says Edward Christian, who heads Jefferson's Office of Diversity and Minority Affairs. One barrier is that there are not enough role models for minority medical students.
Nadene Chambers, director of operations for the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, says minority physicians are so hard to find, the Chicago-based group does not have a program for physician leaders.
"We haven't really heard a lot about physician executives," Chambers says. "We do hear that there is a shortage, but in reality, people aren't being provided with the opportunities that they should be."