Among faculty and leadership positions at medical schools in the US, women and African Americans are  better represented within Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Puerto Rico, according to a recent study published in the journal Medical Education Online.

In the general physician workforce and academic medicine, the small representation of underrepresented minorities in medicine (URMM) has been a persistent problem. “Recent studies have concluded that non-white physicians tend to care for minority patient groups, and increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the physician workforce, including medical faculty, may help eliminate health disparities,” the authors noted. “URMM and women faculty members are thought to play an important role in medical education by establishing mutually beneficial relationships with URMM and women medical students.”

For the study, researchers compared racial/ethnic and gender faculty composition at HBCUs and Puerto Rican medical schools with that at 129 allopathic peer institutions in hopes of identifying if differences in faculty composition existed across institutions. The percentage of faculty and leadership positions filled by women was, on average, higher than the percentage of URMM hired in these positions at U.S. medical schools.

Researchers took a closer look and when comparing the percentages of medical school faculty positions filled by women and URMM indicated that HBCU had a significantly higher average percentage of faculty positions filled by women and African Americans. Furthermore, medical schools in Puerto Rico employed a significantly higher average percentage of Latino/Hispanics in both faculty and chair positions compared with schools outside Puerto Rico.

“If we are to increase the diversity of faculty and leadership in academic medicine, as well as the diversity of the general physician workforce in the United States, we may need to explicitly broaden the pool of recruitment and matriculation into medical school,” the authors explained. “Cultural and historical differences aside these findings suggests that HBCU and PR medical schools may be implementing policies regarding recruitment and hiring practices, as well as institutional support structures, which promote gender and racial/ethnic diversity in faculty and leadership positions.