Health Workforce Diversity: The Quality and Economic Imperatives
Given the historic discrimination against African Americans, American Indians and other racial and ethnic minorities and their exclusion from the health professions in this country, it remains a national challenge to diversify the racial and ethnic background of students entering the health professions. While almost all of the business world recognizes the value and benefits of workforce diversity, there is still strong resistance within admissions committees and faculties of health professions educational institutions to changing traditional admissions criteria (grades and standardized test scores) to account for the qualities of the “whole person” that would make a student a successful health professional.
As our nation’s health care systems undergo continued reform, there is also growing maldistribution of health professionals, both geographically as well as type of practice and specialization. There are chronic and increasing shortages of health professionals for rural and urban underserved areas, especially in primary care. These shortages will only be exacerbated by the increased demand for health care services as the previously millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans obtain health care coverage under national health care reform and begin to seek their own regular providers of health care.
Finally, as models of health care delivery move toward more patient-centered and team-based approaches such as medical homes, physicians and other clinicians will need to be more than knowledgeable, technically proficient providers of procedures, medications and medical devices. The abilities to manage and supervise teams, to conduct motivational interviewing, to engage in care management and support behavior change, and to effectively communicate with and coordinate care with other providers, patients, families and caregivers will become more and more important skills. Having more diverse providers reflective of the patient populations served who can build rapport and trust with patients will be essential.
Here are some key background resources on the imperative for health workforce diversity: