Closing The Medical Diversity Gap

Studies show minority patients benefit from having doctors with similar backgrounds, but only small percentage of physicians are Black or Latino. NBC's Sarah Dallof reports.

(NBC News) — The coronavirus pandemic is amplifying health care inequities across the nation as racial and ethnic minority groups continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus.

One piece of fixing this complex puzzle is increasing diversity in health care, a process that begins in medical school…and even earlier.

While studies show minority patients benefit from having doctors with similar backgrounds, just five percent of active physicians are Black and less than six percent Latino.

Medical schools and teaching hospitals are increasingly pledging to diversify student bodies and faculty.

“It can be done and we can make a difference,” says Dean Henri Ford of the University of Miami’s Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.

The school already has a program for minority high school and college students pursuing health care careers.

Dr. Ford is working to build a pipeline starting even earlier.

“We have to make sure our black and brown children can actually pass reading comprehension in third grade. Otherwise the pool has already shrunken considerably,” he says. “We won’t have enough of them to work with to past high school and get into college.”

Nationwide, the pandemic is adding to the challenge.

As extracurriculars like jobs shadows, research and summer programs that can carry increased importance for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds are canceled.

The American Medical Association is addressing inequalities via initiatives that include it’s newly formed Center for Health Equality.

“We need to work on the goal on having the faces of our physician community match the faces of our overall community,” says the AMA’s Dr. Patrice Harris.

Those changes can lead to stronger doctor-patient communication, trust and ultimately, care.

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