A new report from The Greenlining Institute and the Artemis Medical Society finds that women of color are severely underrepresented among U.S. physicians and face serious barriers to entering medicine and succeeding in the field. This, in turn, means millions of Americans of color lack access to culturally competent care from a provider with whom they feel comfortable. The report, “Breaking Down Barriers for Women Physicians of Color,” is based on in-depth interviews with 20 women physicians from California and around the U.S.
“America needs doctors as diverse as our population, but we don’t have them due to a flawed system,” said Artemis Medical Society President Dr. Myiesha Taylor, a board-certified emergency medicine physician specialist.
“We know that doctors who understand their patients’ communities and cultures can provide better care,” said Artemis Medical Society Vice President Dr. Deonza Thymes. “Having more diverse physicians means better care for everyone.”
Key findings of the report include:
- Many physicians interviewed described a lack of support from high school and college counselors, college professors and graduate students. Shockingly, 40 percent of interviewees recalled a high school or college counselor attempting to discourage them from pursuing a medical career, while over half had questioned their prospects of succeeding as a physician because they had never met a physician who shared their racial identity. These factors no doubt contribute to the fact that women of color are severely underrepresented in medicine, representing just 11.7 percent of physicians.
- In addition to a lack of diversity among medical school faculty, participants cited incidents of overt racism. Several cited specific instances when lecturers casually referenced racist tropes to describe unruly patient interactions. Many interviewees described unequal treatment during medical school and residency, including instances in which male students were encouraged to voice their opinions while women were more likely to be silenced.
- Interviewees also cited financial barriers, including the expense of applying to medical schools, which cost each interviewee several thousand dollars.
“Health sector employers, universities and foundations must all step up their effort to diversify the physician pipeline and make cultural competence a core element of medical schools and residency programs,” said Greenlining Institute Health Policy Director and report co-author Anthony Galace. “Medical schools and institutions must strengthen anti-discrimination and reporting policies to make sure that those who suffer discrimination feel safe in reporting it.”