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Posted on Fri, Jan 29, 2010 : 10:23 a.m.

Minorities underrepresented in medicine - a trend not expected to change soon, University of Michigan study says

By Tina Reed


Juanita Merchant is a professor in U-M's departments of Internal Medicine and Molecular & Integrative Physiology.

The number of minority faculty in U.S. medical schools is far from representing the nation's population, a recently published University of Michigan report found.

And judging from the pipeline of medical students going through medical school, that trend is unlikely to change any time soon, according to the report and commentary. It was published online in the journal Gastroenterology.

Underrepresented minorities make up about 7 percent of practicing physicians and 7.3 percent of all medical school faculty in the U.S., while comprising about 27 percent of the U.S. population. Men also greatly outstrip women in higher academic ranks at medical schools, particularly among minority populations, the report also pointed out.

In the report, underrepresented minorities in the U.S. were defined to include blacks, Latinos, American Indians, Alaskan or Hawaiian natives and other Pacific Islanders.

By 2050, the study - which cites U.S. Census Bureau statistics - says about half the U.S. population will be made up of people who are of a race other than white.

"The low representation and the stagnation of the numbers of black and hispanic faculty in U.S. medical schools is troubling,” Juanita Merchant, a professor in U-M's departments of Internal Medicine and Molecular & Integrative Physiology, said in a release. Merchant co-authored the study with M. Bishr Omary, chairman of U-M's Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology.

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M. Bishr Omary, is chairman of U-M's Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology.

The commentary suggested a number of ideas, including building more robust partnerships between universities and programs to encourage students from underrepresented groups getting their undergraduate education - and younger - to pursue academic achievement and biosciences.

It also suggested members of the medical community and underrepresented minorities reach out to create more mentor relationships and that faculty receive protected time to foster these mentorships. In addition, it pushed for a more supportive environment to reduce attrition of minority women and push the recruitment of minority women trainees.

“We need to plug the leaky pipeline that allows underrepresented minorities to escape before they can complete the process that allows them to go on to becoming medical or research faculty,” Merchant said in the release.

"Why bother?" the researchers asked in their report. The answer: Patients from these minority groups are much more likely to receive care from minority physicians and evidence shows it has more to do with personal preference and language, rather than geography. 

Minorities make up about 35 percent of the population and are likely to receive a higher percent of uncompensated health care and are more likely to come to a physician with serious ailments from delaying care.

"Enhancing the pool of underrepresented minorities among faculty and physicians will likely help alleviate some of the disparities in the quality of care among those populations. Medical schools and government officials need to make this a priority," Merchant said.

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for You can reach her at, call her at 734-623-2535 or find her on Twitter @TreedinAA.


David Gordon

Tue, Feb 2, 2010 : 9:56 a.m.

This is an interesting study which re-states a problem that has been well documented by others over the years. Although the article focuses on the racial/ethnic and gender aspects of diversity in medicine, particularly faculty, the ultimate goal remains the improvement of the health status of underserved and disadvantaged populations. Health disparities and inequities are also well documented with these populaions, particularly African American, Hispanic, Native American, rural and poor. We need the sort of insightful and caring faculty who resonate with these issues. One important strategy in helping such populations is the recruitment and training of health professionals from these populations, since studies have shown that they are more likely than others to later provide health care to these groups, and they are more likely to care about and advocate for underserved populations be they poor, white, rural, minority, or with other health problems. We should focus on all individuals who want to address this health mission.


Sat, Jan 30, 2010 : 12:12 p.m.

The multi-culties might as well say that there are too many Jews and Asians in med schools. We could pay more attention to education in grade school instead of waiting until adulthood to pretend to care. That might actually be productive. School vouchers would be a good start.


Fri, Jan 29, 2010 : 1:13 p.m.

Rufus your comment is gone

Top Cat

Fri, Jan 29, 2010 : 11:42 a.m.

As an Irish-Prussian American, I strongly object that this article does not recognize my minority status. My right not to be offended has been trampled upon. Where is the ACLU when you need them?


Fri, Jan 29, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

So how do we go about "enhancing the pool of underrepresented minorities"? I for one don't care what nationality or race my Dr. is as long as they know what they're doing.