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