A More Diverse Medical Profession Means Better Care for a Diverse America

In the medical profession, institutional equity—and better health outcomes—occur when institutional leadership is diverse.

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A 2004 Commonwealth Fund study (pdf) recommended revision of health policy to encourage workforce diversity and called for programmatic funding to support the recruitment of minority medical students and faculty, with the goal that patient-provider concordance, as it relates to race and ethnicity, improves patient-physician communication, enhances health information gathering and improves overall patient-health outcome. This study provides potent support for diversifying medical-school leadership.

To be sure, health access does not equal health equity. The admission of highly qualified black students to medical schools is dwarfed by the lack of parallel professional growth and advancement opportunities and, as such, does not augur well for a truly equitable national health system. 

The law has changed health policy in the area of access, but it has failed to consider the depth and breadth of that access. And the lack of emphasis in the ACA aimed at addressing workforce diversity and disparities in medical-school training and leadership could tarnish one of health care reform’s greatest legacies. 

As Attorney General Eric Holder recently remarked, it is often not the highly publicized and outrageous cases—like the Sterling episode—that keep us from closing the racial divide in terms of education, wealth and health outcomes. Frequently, rather, it’s the more subtle and insidious disparities of our time that keep us from the fair, equal and just future we were promised.

Because of the importance of health care in our lives and in our communities, medicine and the medical profession must do more to provide effective care for an increasingly diverse America. That means, among many other reforms, a more diverse profession.

June M. McKoy, M.D., is an associate professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a licensed Illinois attorney. She is a Public Voices Thought Leadership fellow at Northwestern through the OpEd Project.