Racial and ethnic diversity would improve health care for underserved populations.
It would take decades for the numbers of Black and Hispanic physicians to match the actual demographics of the United States, even if the number of Black and Hispanic medical student doubled consistently.
The study, “The National Deficit of Black and Hispanic Physicians in the U.S. and Projected Estimates of Time to Correction,” noted a continuing representation deficit of Black and Hispanic physicians. So researchers aimed to estimate the time it would take to reach a representative population of those groups.
The answer: 92 years for Hispanic physicians, if there was sustained doubling of Hispanic medical students, and 66 years for Black physicians, if the number of Black medical students doubled in a sustained way.
The American Medical Association has stated “racial and ethnic diversity among health professionals promotes better access to health care, improves health care quality for underserved populations, and better meets the health care needs of our increasingly diverse population,” said authors Hector Mora, MD, Adetokunbo Obayemi, MD, Kevin Holcomb, MD, and Maurice Hinson, MD.
Achieving racial and ethnic diversity will require a sustained and multifaceted approach to increase the numbers of medical school applicants and students, they said.
Creating and expanding medical schools “that prioritized the education of Black, Hispanic, and other underrepresented students would not only decrease the overall physician shortage, but also shorten the time required to attain a representative physician workforce and help mitigate the societal harm inflicted by decades of structural racism,” said the research letter published June 1 by the journal JAMA Network Open.
The study compared the self-reported racial and ethnic characteristics of the U.S. population with the U.S. physician workforce, for the years 2010 to 2015, based on the U.S. Census and data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. That organization has published a projected total physician racial and ethnic representation deficit between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034.
In 2015, there were 20,349 medical school students and 961,098 practicing doctors of all races and identities.
Of those, 1,231 medical students and 60,549 physicians were Hispanic, and 1,228 medical students and 46,133 physicians were Black, the study said.
Based on those groups’ representation in the population, researchers expected 174,307 Hispanic doctors and 127,490 Black doctors. They calculated deficits of 113,758 Hispanic and 81,358 Black physicians, the study said.
The catch-up times would be shorter if the numbers of Black and Hispanic medical students tripled or quadrupled, the authors said. It would be about 30 years or less for both groups, if the numbers of Black and Hispanic medical students increased by four, according to the study.
They noted the study did not account for future trends in national demographics or immigration, which could underestimate the time to reach a representative workforce, or possible changes in the numbers of medical school and residency training positions available.