By Amy Norton HealthDay reporter
TUESDAY, July 20, 2021 (HealthDay News) – The medical field in the United States is less dominated by white men than it used to be, but black and Hispanic doctors, dentists, and pharmacists are still few, a new study finds.
The study, which looked at trends over the past 20 years, found that white men no longer make up the majority of doctors and surgeons in the United States.
By 2019, they accounted for about 44% of these positions nationwide – up from 54% in 2000. This was due to the increase in women entering these areas, particularly white and Asian women.
In contrast, there was little increase in the proportions of black and Hispanic women doctors and almost no change in black and Hispanic men.
Meanwhile, similar patterns have been found in dentistry and pharmacy – two other lucrative health areas.
There was more minority representation in professions such as nursing, physiotherapy and home nursing. But these are relatively poorly paid jobs, the researchers pointed out.
In addition, the persistent inequalities in medicine also matter to patients, said Dr. Dan Ly, co-author of the study from the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Doctors who are underrepresented minorities, such as black and Hispanic doctors, are more likely than white doctors to practice in areas that are federally classified as medically underserved or lacking in health care professions,” Ly said.
Similarly, he added, these doctors are caring for more people who are underserved – including minorities and patients who are poorer, sicker and uninsured.
There is also evidence that patients are better off seeing a doctor with a similar background.
For example, Ly said, studies showed that black patients were more likely to receive preventive measures like flu shots and diabetes screenings when they see a black doctor.
Unfortunately, the lack of progress in strengthening minority representation among doctors came as no surprise, Ly said. Previous studies have shown this.
What is new about these results, he said, is that dentistry and pharmacy share the same patterns, with potentially the same impact on patient care.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were health benefits to seeing a pharmacist or dentist who looks like you and who could better understand you or your experience – just like medicine,” Ly said.
The results, posted online on JAMA Network Open July 15, are based on two U.S. census polls in which Americans shared their race, ethnicity, and occupation.
Between 2000 and 2019, more and more women became doctors – between 2015 and 2019 that made up around a third of all employees in the healthcare sector. White and Asian women both saw an increase of three percentage points.
There were little increases in black and Hispanic women, and they each accounted for about 2.5% of US doctors in recent years. There was virtually no change among Hispanic and Black men, who accounted for 4% and 2.5% of all doctors, respectively, as of 2019.
The underrepresentation problem has long been known, according to Norma Poll-Hunter, Senior Director of Workforce Diversity at the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Since 2009, US medical schools have been required to offer programs that focus on diversity. Schools in the United States are now partnering with local colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools to stimulate interest in science, prepare students academically, and help with practical things like applying for a medical degree, Poll-Hunter said.
However, it is clear that additional steps are needed and there is particular concern about the low representation of black men in the field, said Poll-Hunter, who was not involved in the new study.
So the focus is now shifting from supporting individual students to more “system changes,” said Poll-Hunter.
“The effects of systemic racism, including in medicine, are now being better recognized,” she said.
As an example, Poll-Hunter said that medical schools are being encouraged to rely less on student results on medical college admissions tests and to “look more at the individual” in admissions decisions.
“Those are the things we need to really move the dial,” said Poll-Hunter.
SOURCES: Dan Ly, MD, PhD, MPP, Assistant Professor, General Internal Medicine and Health Research, University of California, Los Angeles; Norma Poll-Hunter, PhD, Senior Director, Workforce Diversity, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC; JAMA Network Open, July 15, 2021, online
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