WHY IS RACIAL AND ETHNIC DIVERSITY IMPORTANT IN HEALTH PROFESSIONS FIELDS?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s review of the University of Michigan admissions lawsuits prompted an avalanche of amicus brief filings from both proponents and opponents of affirmative action and the use of race and ethnicity in university admissions processes. Many of these arguments have been summarized elsewhere, particularly by the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ respective legal counsel (see especially amicus brief filings at the University of Michigan Internet website http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/legal). The weight of scientific evidence, however, supports the necessity of ensuring that health professionals reflect the diversity of the U.S. population. This evidence (summarized below) demonstrates that greater diversity among health professionals is associated with improved access to care for racial and ethnic minority patients, greater patient choice and satisfaction, and better patient–clinician communication. In higher education settings, greater diversity is associated with improved student learning and community participation. Indirectly, evidence suggests that greater diversity can improve the cultural competence5 of health professionals and health systems, and that such improvements may be associated with better health-care outcomes. In addition, greater diversity among health professionals has the potential to improve the clinical research enterprise and to lead to new developments and improvements in health care and how care is delivered.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity Among Health Professionals and Access to Health Care for Minority Patients

Racial and ethnic minority health-care clinicians are significantly more likely than their white peers to serve minority and medically underserved communities, thereby helping to improve problems of limited minority access to care. Several studies document this trend across a range of health professions, although the bulk of this research has focused on the practice patterns of physicians.

Turner and Turner (1996), for example, studied the practice characteristics of psychological service providers, using a random sample of psychologists listing the National Register of Health Service Providers. Racial

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Cultural competence is defined as “a set of behaviors and attitudes and a culture within the business or operation of a system that respects and takes into account the person’s cultural background, cultural beliefs, and their values and incorporates it into the way health care is delivered to that individual” (Betancourt et al., 2002, p.3).



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