Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are significantly underrepresented in U.S. health professions, with little indication that diversity will improve, a new study says.
In 2019, Black people made up about 12.1% of the U.S. workforce, but their representation in 10 health professions studied ranged from 3.3% for physical therapists to 11.4% for respiratory therapists.
"Our findings suggest that Blacks, Latinos, and other people of color have been left behind when it comes to the health professions," said lead author Edward Salsberg, co-director of the Health Workforce Diversity Tracker project at George Washington University's Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity in Washington, D.C. He spoke in a university news release.
In the 10 professions — which included doctors, nurses, and pharmacists — the diversity index for Blacks was 0.54. A diversity index of 1 means the diversity of the overall workforce and that in the profession are equal.
In 5 of the 10 health professions, the representation of Black workers among new graduates was less than in practice, suggesting that their representation in those professions may be even lower in the future.
In 2019, Hispanic people accounted for 18.2% of the U.S. workforce, but their representation in the health professions ranged from 3.4% for physical therapists to 10.8% for respiratory therapists, resulting in a diversity index of 0.34.
Native Americans accounted for 0.6% of the overall U.S. workforce in 2019, but their representation among the 10 professions ranged from a low of zero to a high of 0.9%, for a diversity index of 0.54.
The findings were published online March 31 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The researchers said their findings are important because minority health professionals are key to efforts to reduce the disproportionate burden of diseases, including COVID-19, among communities of color.
"By building a more diverse health workforce, the United States would improve access and improve outcomes in underserved communities and for high-need populations," study co-author Toyese Oyeyemi said in the release.
Co-author Maria Portela said the findings show that health workforce roles that require post-graduate training suffer from a significant underrepresentation of minorities that lags behind their representation in the general population.
"This trend is unlikely to change unless we devote attention and resources to fix it," she said.
Oyeyemi and Portela are co-directors of the Diversity Tracker project at the Mullan Institute.