Over 80 million viewers tuned in to watch the 88th Academy Awards and found themselves more interested than ever to catch this year’s broadcast, not because of high anticipation behind who might win best actor/actress or which screenplay would snag an award, but for one single reason – to watch Chris Rock’s opening monologue and get a front row seat to see how he would tackle – or not – the issue of diversity.
While as a premed, you may be quick to dismiss the issues surrounding diversity and the Oscars, the truth is that when the layers are pulled back, the Motion Picture Academy’s predicament actually echoes the challenges that medical schools across the United States face as they attempted to increase diversity in medicine.
Leaders in medical education have known for some time now that to eliminate health disparities in this country, a diverse pool of physicians is essential. A report from the Association of American Medical Colleges on Diversity in Medical Education explains that “the exposure to and experience with racial and ethnic diversity are key to understanding and improving patient care, as well as reducing health disparities.”
Is the diversity of the Academy really that bad? Well, if the tweet posted from @KhalehBydoun based on a Los Angeles Times survey was accurate, of the 6,028 Academy Award voters, 94% are Caucasian completed to 2% who are African-American.
The next juxtaposition is quite easy to make. So, what if we think about these voters as medical students and the physician workforce of the future, would this group of doctors be a true representation of what this country needs? Would this group be able to address the needs of our diverse population?
AAMC data has shown that nearly 51 percent of African Americans, 41 percent of Native Americans, and 33 percent of Hispanic graduates plan to practice in underserved areas compared to only 18 percent of Caucasian graduates.
Essentially, this data speaks volumes to the need for a diverse medical student population.
According to the same AAMC report, “while African Americans and Hispanics are among the fastest growing segments of the population, they are also the most severely underrepresented minorities in medicine,” the authors revealed. “Today, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans together make up 25 percent of the U.S. population. However, only 6 percent of practicing doctors come from these groups.”
Still, the medical school trend of a lack of diversity among its students remains. So, what have we seen to move the needle forward on creating a more diverse physicians workforce? The answer for now seems to be medical schools adopting a more “holistic” approach to their admissions process “to create and sustain medical student diversity.” But how much progress can be made even after the results of this new approach yield low diversity numbers? While this country be able to completely and effectively address the needs of the population if medical schools are training students who are uninterested in serving underserved populations, the number of doctors interested and willing to serve these communities remains low? Take a look at the mission statement of a medical school you are interested in applying to. Chances are, there’s a part in there about diversity. Hey, they ay even have a ‘Statement of Diversity’.
Let’s not forget that diversity in medicine is not just about race, but also includes ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and others.
In the end, no medical school should want to produce students who are not willing and able to serve each and every community and population in this nation. Providing health care to populations across the country requires a representative physician workforce who can address unmet needs. One way to do this is by creating and building a diverse medical student population.