Despite projections by the U.S. Census Bureau that more than half of the total population will belong to a racial minority group by 2044, healthcare currently is fairly racially homogenous.
African-Americans account for more than 13% of the total population yet make up only 5% of active physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Latinos represent nearly a fifth of the total population in the U.S., but only account for 5.8% of all active physicians.
Healthcare’s lack of diversity can result in biases and miscommunication, and gaps in care.
Black and Latino adults in 2016 were less likely than white adults to receive regular care and were less likely to have had a medical visit over the previous 12 months, according to a 2018 research brief by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Affordable Care Act attempted to abate this disparity by supporting several key programs.
The National Health Service Corps received up to $4 billion from 2010 to 2015. The Corps provides scholarships and loan repayment help to healthcare professionals who serve for a period in medically underserved areas. Racial and ethnic minorities make up approximately one-third of program participants.
The ACA also reauthorized the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Careers Opportunity Program and gave it $60 million from 2011 to 2014. Established in 1972, the program helps students from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds enter and graduate from health professional schools.
That program bolstered institutions like the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, which received $3.2 million over five years.
“We needed to make sure that our high school and college students understand how different the world of medicine might be when they’re ready to practice medicine,” said Dr. Gary Butts, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Mount Sinai Health System and senior associate dean for diversity programs for the Icahn school.
But Mount Sinai’s effort began around 1998 when the medical school dean at the time felt a desire for the student body to better reflect the surrounding community of East Harlem. The school ended up producing relatively few minority medical graduates to employ at the system since competition for them was tight.
Butts said it became clear that the way forward was to implement what he called the ‘grow our own’ model. The approach called for investing in a pipeline to increase the number of minority students who matriculate into medical school.