The Need for Diversity in Health Care

The Need for Diversity in Health Care

December 16, 2020

The ongoing pandemic has brought the issue of racial inequality front and center in the minds of the American public.

Black Americans are nearly four times as likely as their white counterparts to be hospitalized following infection, and nearly three times as likely to die. Meanwhile, Hispanic Americans share a similar mortality rate, and are more than four times as likely to suffer a stint in the hospital should they be unfortunate enough to contract the virus.

These statistics paint a horrifying picture of the health inequalities that plague our communities of color. And they are symptomatic of a larger problem: the wealth and employment gaps that give rise to such disparities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our nation’s healthcare sector.

The homogeneity of the healthcare industry is a well-known and well-documented phenomenon. Consider that more than half of all allopathic medical school graduates are white. Just 10 percent are Black or Hispanic; American Indian and Native Hawaiian graduates comprise less than 1 percent.

Unfortunately, such divides extend well beyond practicing physicians alone. Over 70 of Americans working in health care or social assistance writ large are white. Meanwhile over 90 percent of hospital CEOs were white as of 2015, according to research from the American College of Healthcare Executives. The same report found that both white men and women were more likely to hold senior-level positions in healthcare management compared to their minority peers.

Rectifying inequities in the healthcare sector will give way to tangible improvements within our nation’s most vulnerable communities. Encouraging a diverse workforce that conducts outreach to minority Americans expectedly increases access to care for vulnerable populations, according to research from the Journal of Healthcare Science and the Humanities. And patients treated by physicians that share their racial or ethnic background are more likely to report having received higher quality care.

Although recent trends do point to a slow — but sure — increase in the number of minorities working in health care, this increased diversity has not yet been reflected in leadership positions.

It’s time that changed.

This effort begins with a top-down approach. Fortunately, President-elect Biden’s healthcare team selections have signaled a clear intent to address the racial inequalities that undermine the health of our nation’s vulnerable. Xavier Becerra is poised to become the first-ever Latino to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. And Yale University’s Marcella Nunez-Smith — a noted expert on healthcare equity issues — is slated to head both his coronavirus advisory board as well as a White House task force focused on health disparities.

Still, we can do more. It’s up to lawmakers to lead by example and enact reforms that encourage a more diverse healthcare workforce — one in which minority Americans have the chance to lead, not just follow. In so doing, they can build a future that reflects the need of an evolving and growing nation — one that is better for all.