A healthy population requires a diverse doctor workforce

By Dr. G. Richard Olds, President of St. George's University
May 29, 2018

Only 6 percent of U.S. doctors are African American, Hispanic, or Native American — even though these groups account for nearly one-third of the U.S. population.[1]

The lack of diversity in the physician workforce is a problem. Minority doctors are more likely to practice in underserved communities. To ensure equal access to care, our medical institutions must promote diversity.

Minority doctors are more likely to treat minority patients. A JAMA study found that even though nonwhite physicians only make up a fraction of total doctors, they care for more than half of minority patients and seven in ten non-English-speaking patients.[2]

Minority physicians are also more likely to practice in vulnerable communities. Thirty percent of black doctors and 25 percent of Hispanic doctors practice in medically underserved areas, according to a study of nearly 50,000 California doctors. Only 15 percent of white doctors do the same.[3]

Similarly, minority doctors are more likely to specialize in primary care fields where the doctor shortage is most severe. The nation will be short up to 49,300 primary care doctors by 2030.[4] About one in three African American doctors practices primary care, compared to one in five white doctors.[5]

The current doctor workforce also lacks economic diversity. Nearly 60 percent of new medical school students come from the top economic quintile. Only 5 percent come from the bottom quintile.[6]

That’s problematic, because doctors from modest socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to enter primary care. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine revealed that doctors whose parents earned less than $100,000 were more likely to practice family medicine.[7]

Here at St. George’s, we’re committed to producing a diverse set of physicians. Students and faculty come from 140 countries.[8] Eighty percent of students use financial aid to complete their education.[9] And 75 percent of graduates pick primary care.[10]

Research shows that a diverse doctor workforce is better for patients. Now it’s up to medical schools to act on that knowledge.


[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Health/doctors-minority-medicine/story?id=41419014

[2] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1792913

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978451/figure/F1/; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22708247

[4] https://news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/workforce_report_shortage_04112018/

[5] https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/878129_5

[6] https://www.aamc.org/download/102338/data/aibvol8no1.pdf

[7] http://aapsus.org/articles/40.pdf

[8] http://www.sgu.edu/about-sgu/enrollment-and-demographics/

[9] http://www.sgu.edu/academic-programs/school-of-medicine/financial-aid-and-scholarships/

[10] http://www.sgu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/som-catalogue.pdf; page 14

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