Historically Underrepresented Populations in Medicine
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2019, there were more women enrolled in medical school than men for the first time in history.1 This is significant, especially since in the earlier years of women joining the medical field, many of them endured a great deal of discrimination, poverty, and deep-seated stereotypes. Despite these obstacles, women have gone on “to build hospitals, win a Nobel Prize, lead a medical school, and dramatically improve the health of millions,” as well as increasing the knowledge of diseases such as diabetes, and allowing for a better understanding of the human brain.1,2
While it is great news that there are more and more women becoming physicians, male physicians continue to dominate certain specialties such as orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery, internal medicine, family medicine, and interventional radiology, while female physicians dominate specialties like obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and allergy and immunology.1,3 “Specialties with a nearly equal balance of male and female doctors are sleep medicine, preventive medicine, pathology, and psychiatry.”1
Regarding race and ethnicity, we continue to see significant disparities in the field of medicine. According to the AAMC, in 2018, about 56.2% of all active physicians identified as White, followed by 17.1% identifying as Asian, 5.8% identifying as Hispanic, 5% identifying as Black or African American, and 0.3% identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native. Please see the figure below for more information.4
Like women and ethnic and racial groups, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ continue to face discrimination and negative stereotypes. According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, about 4.5% of the U.S. population self-identified as LGBTQIA+. Recently (2016), the AAMC started collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data.5 Based on data collected by the AAMC from 2017-2019, “the percentage of graduating medical students identifying as bisexual increased slightly from 4.2% to 5%, and those identifying as gay or lesbian increased from 3.6% to 3.8%.”5 During the same time period, “the number of graduating medical students who had a different gender than that assigned at birth increased from 0.6% to 0.7%.”5 While the AAMC has been collecting this data since 2016, unfortunately, it is still challenging to identify how many current working physicians identify as LBGTQIA+ and their specialties.
Given that the U.S. Population continues to become more and more diverse, and we continue to see greater health disparities within certain populations, the field of medicine needs to be as diverse as the general population. Research shows that patients from underrepresented communities truly benefit from having physicians they can relate to ethnically and culturally. This improves “time spent together, medication adherence, shared decision-making, wait times for treatment, cholesterol screening, patient understanding of cancer risk, and patient perceptions of treatment decisions. Not surprisingly, implicit bias from the physician is also decreased.”6 In order to tackle the real health disparities we see in our nation, we need to focus on recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority individuals at all levels of education, including college, medical school, and even within the faculty and administration. By having a seat at the table, and being represented, only then might we be able to start tackling the very real issues that affect the health of our nation’s diverse growing population.
1. Searing L. The big number: Women now outnumber men in medical schools. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/the-big-number-women-now-outnumber-men-in-medical-schools/2019/12/20/8b9eddea-2277-11ea-bed5-880264cc91a9_story.html. Published December 23, 2019. Accessed March 16, 2022.
2. Weiner S. Celebrating 10 women medical pioneers. AAMC. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/celebrating-10-women-medical-pioneers. Published March 3, 2020. Accessed March 16, 2022.
3. Michas F. Active physicians in U.S. by specialty and gender. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/439728/active-physicians-by-specialty-and-gender-in-the-us/. Published February 3, 2021. Accessed March 16, 2022.
4. Percentage of all active physicians by Race/ethnicity, 2018. AAMC. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/workforce/interactive-data/figure-18-percentage-all-active-physicians-race/ethnicity-2018. Accessed March 16, 2022.
5. Here’s why LGBTQ physicians should self-identify. AAFP Home. https://www.aafp.org/news/blogs/freshperspectives/entry/20200303fp-lgbtqphysicians.html. Published March 3, 2020. Accessed March 16, 2022.
6. Huerto R. Minority patients benefit from having minority doctors, but that’s a hard match to make. University of Michigan. https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/rounds/minority-patients-benefit-from-having-minority-doctors-but-thats-a-hard-match-to-make-0. Published March 31, 2020. Accessed March 16, 2022.