Grantmakers in Health Issue Focus: Improving Diversity in the Health Professions

This Issue Focus from Grantmakers in Health describes strategies that funders have used to support the improved diversity of the health professions.

The issue brief notes that a significant body of research demonstrates benefits on multiple levels from having a diverse health professional work- force. Notably, a workforce that more closely mirrors the racial and ethnic diversity of the country’s population will improve access to and quality of care, reduce health disparities, and improve overall population health outcomes.  Health professionals of color are more likely to provide care to patients who are a reflection of themselves. In addition, these providers are more likely to practice in underserved or designated shortage areas and treat patients regardless of insurance status. Also, patients of color report greater satisfaction with their choice of providers and experiences, including reporting better provider-patient communication when being treated by a provider of color.  Greater diversity in the health professions provides a larger pool of mentors for students; increases the array of researchers and investigators offering different perspectives on health research, activities, and services; and improves cross-cultural educational experiences and cultural competency for all students.

There are many opportunities for funders interested in supporting efforts to increase diversity in the health professions:

• One place to start is education, where diversity-improving strategies should focus on educational settings and the types of academic preparation – particularly in mathematics and science – that children receive. This includes supporting programs and partnerships with local schools and colleges to improve their academic offerings and financial assistance geared toward increasing the pool of qualified candidates from communities of color and low-income and rural areas.

• Intervening at the “downstream,” or college/post- baccalaureate, stage of the pipeline is also important. At this stage, shorter intervals exist between providing support for interventions and the subsequent entry of underrepresented people of color into the health professions workforce.

• Engaging with health professions schools may encourage changes in institutional culture, including reconsidering admissions processes, developing more explicit policies that embrace diversity, providing increased financial resources for students of color, and encouraging and incentivizing faculty members to serve as mentors for students of color.

• Coordinating research and communications strategies will help make the case for the imperative and benefits of health professions diversity to key stakeholders. Efforts may include building and conven- ing regional and national coalitions to foster policy support for changes that proliferate diversity in the health professions.

The issue brief notes that, to date, efforts to increase diversity in the health professional workforce have met with limited success. Nonetheless, a well-trained, diverse workforce is an essential component in efforts to deliver high-quality, accessible, equitable health care to all populations and to eliminate health disparities. Continued demographic changes and the entry of thousands of previously underserved individuals into the health care system make the need for a greater focus on successful interventions in this area more critical than ever before.

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