NEW YORK (Reuters Health)—Continued efforts are needed to increase the number of women and minorities in graduate medical education (GME) to ensure a diverse U.S. physician workforce, say the authors of a research letter published today.
“Diversifying the physician workforce has been discussed as requisite to addressing health disparities and inequities. Minority physicians continue to provide the majority of care for underserved and non-English speaking populations,” first author Dr. Curtiland Deville of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., told Reuters Health by email.
Using publicly reported data, the researchers determined that in 2012, there were 16,835 medical school graduates, of which 48.3% were women and 15.3% were minority groups (including 7.4% Hispanic and 6.8% black).
There were 115,111 trainees in GME in 2012, of which 46.1% were women and 13.8% were minority groups (7.5% Hispanic and 5.8% black).
Of the 688,468 practicing physicians in 2012, 30.1% were women and 9.2% were members of underrepresented minorities, including 5.2% who were Hispanic and 3.8% who were black.
In 2012, women accounted for 82.4% of trainees in obstetrics and gynecology and for 74.5% of pediatrics trainees, but only 13.8% of trainees in orthopedics. Women also accounted for more than 50% of GME trainees in dermatology (64.4%), family medicine (55.2%), pathology (54.6%) and psychiatry (54.5%).
Among black trainees, family medicine (7.5%) and obstetrics and gynecology (10.3%) were top picks, while otolaryngology (2.2%) was least favorite. Among Hispanic trainees, top picks were psychiatry (9.3%), family medicine (9%), obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics (each 8.7%) while ophthalmology (3.6%) was least favorite.
“Our study shows that while representation is increased in certain specialties for females, Blacks, and Hispanics, it remains largely unchanged in others,” Dr. Deville told Reuters Health.
“Efforts have been made to increase the available pipeline of diverse medical school graduates with perhaps the assumption that this increased diversity will translate downstream to all specialties. Our study shows that this is not the case. There remain some specialties such as radiology, orthopedics, and otolaryngology, with disproportionate underrepresentation of women and minorities,” he noted.
What’s needed to increase diversity in GME?
“First is the need to increase the available pipeline of diverse medical students,” Dr. Deville said. “This is especially the case for Blacks, Hispanics, and other underrepresented groups. In parallel, is the need to ensure that female, black, and Hispanic medical students are exposed, prepared, and engaged to join all medical specialties. As the country becomes increasingly diverse, the physician workforce should mirror that diversity in all fields to ensure improve health equity and reduce health disparities,” he said.