By Anne Coltman, CHEF Chapter Communications Committee Member
A 2019 study completed at UCLA found that the proportion of black physicians in the US has increased by only 4% in the past 120 years with no change in the number of black male doctors. Panelists Dr. Stephen Estime, Dr. Bill McDade, and Dr. Ike Okwusa discussed the current state of diversity in physicians and how healthcare leaders can help address under-representation among this group in CHEF”s recent virtual Face-to-Face program. Health Inequities: Addressing Underrepresentation Among Physicians.
The coupled efforts of leaders creating opportunities and protecting time for current physicians and leaders to complete outreach work are critical to correcting this issue. In the spirit of “You can’t be what you can’t see,” allowing currently practicing diverse physicians to spend time in underrepresented communities can help inspire young people to consider careers in medicine. Likewise, outreach efforts in young adults, including individuals in medical school and/or their residencies can help establish mentoring relationships that young clinicians can turn to throughout their careers. However, ensuring that these physicians have protected time to complete this work is critical. Asking diverse physicians to add these outreach efforts to their already overfull workload contributes to burnout among this group and likely leads to less impactful interactions in the community.
Additionally, senior leaders should look within their own institutions when identifying individuals to take on roles with increased responsibility. Being intentional about the upward mobility of minorities within the organization through structured programs, such as a mentorship program, is critical in improving the likelihood of promoting diversity to higher levels of leadership. Likewise, being thoughtful about the parameters that make a physician or leader excellent may change the landscape of selection for these positions. Often used in response to the question of the impact of diversity on meritocracy, considering other attributes that make physicians excellent, such as compassionate care, may be critical rather than simply evaluating test scores.
Put simply during the panel discussion, healthcare leaders need to value the work that minoritized people do and credit them appropriately for it. Supporting a diverse workforce, particularly among physicians, helps ensure that an organization can carry out its mission and vision, especially when those focus on meeting the needs of their communities.