Increasing the diversity of America’s professional workforce is becoming more important in all industries, but especially so in healthcare, where having employees who better reflect the population can improve care outcomes. I am encouraged to see the progress that health systems are making on this front, but there is still much more work to do.
One of the barriers often cited to increasing diversity, especially among healthcare leaders, is the “pipeline problem.” The argument we repeatedly hear is that there aren’t enough diverse candidates in the pool for the industry to make significant progress.
But rather than a “pipeline problem,” industry leaders should see a “pipeline opportunity” and work closely with higher education. We need to be more intentional about building partnerships that broaden our understanding and deepen our reach.
While many diversity efforts focus largely on recruiting, the pipeline opportunity calls for action earlier on the path to a healthcare career. Many students start focusing on their future jobs for the first time as undergraduates. They have to fulfill certain requirements for graduate school, so directing resources toward this stage of education is critical to reduce hurdles to a career in healthcare.
One way for providers to reach more diverse students at that crucial undergraduate point is by partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions to support more of their students going into healthcare. There are more than 100 HBCUs and more than 550 HSIs across the country, offering a large number of potential partners for any health system.
At HCA Healthcare, we recently announced a $10 million investment to expand opportunities for students at HBCUs and HSIs who are interested in careers in healthcare. Our initial $1.5 million investment with Florida A&M University will provide undergraduate internships and graduate scholarships. In addition, our $1.5 million gift to Florida International University will expand the number of qualified educators to help support larger nursing student cohorts. Most recently, our partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso will support more than 30 nursing fellows and more than 50 healthcare administration graduate degree opportunities.
These types of partnerships can be an important tool for any health system looking to seize the pipeline opportunity and help create a more diverse workforce. We see some of this collaboration at the university level (such as partnerships between university medical schools or hospitals with HBCU medical schools or hospitals), but more is needed to truly move the needle on diversity in healthcare.
To that end, I want to share some insights with system leaders who are interested in embracing the pipeline opportunity.